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KPL – Dawn of a New Era in the History of Kashmir

Cricket is truly a passion that binds our nation into one as it runs like blood in our veins. It was a beautiful sunny day in the exotic mountains of Muzaffarabad when Mr. AriF Malik (President KPL) and Ch. Shahzad Akhtar (CEO KPL), while executing the International Paragliding Competition, dreamt of a cricket league in Azad Kashmir, back in 2019.

Arif Malik: Two and a half years ago, we were doing a paragliding event in Muzaffarabad. With the sky filled with paragliders, looking across the stadium we dreamt of a cricket league solely based on the remarkable beauty of Kashmir. It was a dream to make Kashmir a national and international cricket venue once and forever. The idea was not just about the sport or the contest, but it was a vision of a subject that proliferate national and regional harmony through the game of cricket.

Ch. Shahzad Akhtar: The vision of the cricket league was to contribute to the magnificent land of Kashmir and its people by projecting the message of peace and harmony to the world. It was a dream to give the youth of Kashmir a chance to excel by having an opportunity to play with international players and make their mark in international cricket. Additionally, it was to comprehend the anatomy of Azad Jammu & Kashmir refuting the fake notion of disputed territory fabricated by India.

The response from the Government of Pakistan, the Government of AJ&K, and the Legendary Heroes of Team Pakistan was overwhelming when KPL management initiated the planning and process for the Kashmir Premier league. Despite the austere challenges on the way, the commitment for Kashmir Cause and dedication for change was the driving force that kept them going on their journey to execute KPL.

The duo of the living legends of Pakistan Cricket, Waseem Akram and Shahid Afridi signed to become the Vice President and Brand Ambassador of KPL respectively. Their perseverance had a great impact on the world of cricket as well as the stakeholders present in the voyage of KPL.

It is also important to recognize that KPL management had 13 years of an exclusive agreement with the Government of AJ&K to conduct KPL annually. The league welcomed all segments of the Kashmiri society making room for every youngster willing to participate in the trials. The goal was to test every individual to his limits and pick out the top-of-the-line players without any discrimination. In due course, Muzaffarabad Cricket Stadium was being equipped with state-of-the-art facilities to meet the international standards set forth by the International Cricket Council (ICC). For the first time in AJ&K, ultramodern floodlights are installed at Muzaffarabad stadium for the excited spectators to relish the night matches. The outfield and pitches of the stadium were also bolstered up for the players to showcase their talent without any disinclination. This

process was already bringing investment in the Kashmir region and is providing the community a great opportunity to become a part of KPL whether as a player, a vendor, or as a worker.

Meanwhile, KPL management went ahead with the bidding of franchise ownerships by the interested individuals. All the 6 franchise owners exhibited a fanatical interest in building up their team of officials to go further ahead for the execution of KPL. All other stakeholders including the Broadcasters, Event Management Company, and other patrons also displayed great eagerness to make KPL a legacy for the generations to come.

The KPL Players Draft Event held in Islamabad left a remarkable impact on the onlookers around the globe. The Draft event was graced by the high profile dignitaries and the Legendary Players of the Pakistan Cricket Team including Inzamam ul Haq, Abdul Razzaq, Umer Gul. Saeed Ajmal, and many more. Each of the franchise selected players to form a competitive team that could possibly lift the KPL champion trophy.

This event was followed by the startling Logo Revealing and Title Sponsor Event adorned by Mr. Saif-ur-Rehman (Chairman SR Group) and Mr. Syed Sajjad Hussain Shah (President PHPA) along with all the franchise owners and high profile dignitaries. The SRG joined hands with KPL to become the title sponsor for the mega event. It is worth mentioning that Mr. Saif-ur-Rehman affianced his enduring support and permanent title sponsorship for KPL in the future as well.

As the Kashmir Premier League landed in AJ&K, the presence of Pakistani Politicians, Celebrities, and Businessmen in Pre-event activities and TV programs already publicized the interest and support for Kashmir by Pakistan particularly the Heads of Government. Pakistani media also played an encouraging role in showcasing the cause and impact of KPL.

Like every journey, KPL was also not on a smooth road trip, but a toilsome trail of challenges. Right, when KPL was entering into its execution phase the BCCI, the Indian government, and the Indian media desperately opposed the Kashmir Premier League calling it the firsthand hoopla against India. However, ICC forthrightly denied the BCCI claim and disavowed any action against KPL as it was a local league and not a concern of ICC. The vigorous efforts and propaganda of BBCI and the Government of India to sabotage the KPL event went in vain. Against the odds, this act of BCCI publicized KPL on the international level, boosting its fame even before the execution of the league.

The execution phase of KPL initiated with the arrival of franchise players in Muzaffarabad. The players were amazed by the beauty of Kashmir as well as the hospitality arrangements made for them in Muzaffarabad. Starting with Kamran Akmal, Ahmed Shehzad and Shoaib Malik. the Vlogs made by several players spread the message of peace and harmony besides expressing their contentment over the measures taken in the stadium for the contest. These Vlogs exhibited the tiresome efforts made by the management and team of KPL.

Finally, the day arrived when the history of AJ&K changed forever with the start of the inaugural season of KPL at Muzaffarabad Cricket Stadium. August the sixth 2021, will be remembered

forever by the Kashmiris all around the globe. The opening ceremony kicked off with the paragliders coming down from 10,000 feet and touching the ground of the stadium along with the air-waves filled with KPL Azadi Anthem, sending a message of peace and harmony around the globe besides entertaining the audience. The atmosphere was electrifying with the presence of a local audience inside and outside the stadium on lush green mountains with scattered housing and communicative infrastructure, surrounding the stadium.

The event was signified by the high profile dignitaries, legendary players, franchise owners, patron heads, and other all stakeholders highly appreciating the efforts of KPL while speaking to the audience. The formal proceedings of the opening ceremony initiated with the National Anthems of Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir boosting the energy and emotions of all the invitees and the audience. The opening speech was delivered by Taimoor Ali khan (Director Cricket Operations KPL) followed by the vote of thanks from Ch. Shahzad Akhtar (CEO KPL) and others in a row as under.

Taimoor Ali Khan (Director Cricket Operations KPL): “The talent of Kashmir was denied to play alongside international foreign players, but today with the blessings of God they have been given a global platform to come and showcase their talent. Kashmir Premier League is being played in Kashmir and it will be played by Kashmiris. KPL is not as simple as it seems to be, instead, we have gone through unadorned challenges and passed steeplechases on our journey to this day in Muzaffarabad. And we do not stop here, we are united and organized for a long way ahead to achieve much bigger”.

Ch. Shahzad Akhtar (CEO KPL): “Today KPL has fulfilled its promise. We are going to make history today. The scale of our dream that we saw may not be this big, however, the Almighty has blessed us with great success beyond our thoughts. I am thankful to the Government of Ajk, Government of Pakistan, Sports Board, Media, all the other stakeholders, especially the dignified people of Kashmir. And we don’t stop there, we are going to start here a cricket academy to train and enhance the talent of youth”.

Syed Sajjad Hussain Shah (Chief Advisor KPL): “We wanted to show the world that Kashmir of Pakistan is a homeland to lively and peaceful citizens, and KPL has proved that every citizen of Azad Kashmir lives their contented life with independence. Today, we felt the love of the people of Kashmir. KPL is being televised live in more than 30 countries and globally on social media revealing Kashmiri love for sports”.

Saif ur Rehman Niazi (Founder and CEO of SR Group): “ On this auspicious occasion today, I feel content and proud that I am a part of this league. But my heart is sad for our brothers living in Indian Occupied Kashmir are not a part of this event. I salute the management of KPL, The Government, PCB, Franchise Owners, Broadcasters & Media, the Pakistan Army, and Security Agencies for making this event a huge success. I also salute Harshel Gibbs from South Africa for becoming a part of this event today refuting Indian propaganda against him. He came as an international ambassador and proved that Azad Kashmir is a safe haven for sports and Pakistan knows how to respect and secure its guests”.

Shoaib Akhter (Peace Ambassador KPL): “Wow! What a glorious day. Every face and every moment is a memory. I am thankful to KPL for delivering this great festival and gift deserved by the people of Kashmir. As a peace ambassador, as today I am standing here in Muzaffarabad, I wish one day I could drive to Srinagar and take this message of peace there telling them that we don’t need bloodshed but the sports. I feel proud to say that Muzaffarabad Stadium is becoming one of the best stadiums in the world surrounded by the splendor of Kashmir. KPL management, a private company has raised a huge franchise and brand called KPL. Mr. Arif Malik has done a wonderful job but I must appreciate Mr. Taimoor Ali khan who has done all in making this stadium a world-class sports arena. May this KPL grow larger than life forever”.

Shehryar Khan Afridi (Chairman Kashmir Committee): “Kashmir, the heaven on earth, is blessed with everything from resilience to commitment, beauty, dignity, traditions, and values, the only missing link was to spectacle the unexplored ability, talent, resilience, and commitment to the outer world. I congratulate KPL for taking this task and doing a fabulous job of presenting Kashmir in the best way possible. KPL is a clear message to the world that Pakistan and Azad Kashmir especially the people of Kashmir believe in human values and human dignity. I congratulate all the stakeholders of KPL and now is the time to prove that we have the ability to compete with the best of the best. Now is the time to explore the tourism of Kashmir from every nook of the region”.

Faisal Javed (Chairman Senate Standing Committee): “Kashmir, I congratulate everyone on this magnificent inauguration of KPL. KPL is a sporting platform that will not only strengthen the Kashmir Cause globally but will also provide an opportunity to the local talent of Kashmir to showcase their skills and ability. Now, the world is going to witness that on one side people of Azad Kashmir are living and playing in an independent atmosphere in magnificent Kashmir, whereas on the other side the Indian atrocities are on peek in IIOK. Additionally, it is a platform to showcase the magnificence of Kashmir that will boost the tourism industry. We are united and stand firm with KPL in its future endeavors for Kashmir”.

Wasim Akram (Vice President KPL): “Congratulations to people of Kashmir for KPL as they won’t complain again that the Kashmiri talent does not get any opportunity. You will be playing with the top players of the Pakistan Team like Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, and others. I have been playing and commentating in stadiums around the world, but I must say with my heart that this stadium is one of the most beautiful stadiums I have seen in the world of cricket. In the end, I wish all the best to all teams, and may the best one wins the championship”.

Arif Malik (President KPL): “Wow, what a proud moment. We have been working hard, day in day out to execute this, to go live on air from Muzaffarabad stadium across the globe. First, I am obligated to Almighty that we are going live and the first match will be played in a while. Congratulations to Kashmir because you deserve this and it is also a proud moment for the young talent of Kashmir who will be showcasing their skills here. They will excel and share the dressing room with senior players, and will definitely go ahead to the Pakistan team and of course to global leagues as well. Dear world, look we are executing today, KPL is happening

today. Dear world Look at the crowd of Muzaffarabad, look at the beauty of Muzaffarabad. I am thankful to the Government of Azad Kashmir and all the other stakeholders who traveled along on this journey, especially Sheheryar Khan Afridi who proved to be a huge support and the driving force in executing KPL. I am also grateful to our Broadcast partner Blitz, production partner Trans Group and all the sponsors who made this event possible”.

Sardar Masood Khan (President of AJ&K): “Firstly, I am thankful to Hershal Gibbs for taking on BCCI and not capitulating to their pressure. I warmly welcome all the players in the stadium. Arif Malik deserves gratitude and appreciation because it’s his tireless efforts that made us present in this stadium with the start of a new journey of sports and cricket in Kashmir.Our moto is Khelo Aazadi Se. I want to convey to the government of India sitting in Dehli that let Kashmir play and learn a lesson from this historic day of Azad Kashmir. I want to convey to them that we have no political agenda, India should not politicize and chain the game of cricket. KPL is an independent initiative and all Indian efforts to sabotage this league went in vain. I want to commend the exquisiteness of Azad Kashmir and believe that a day will come when we will be playing similar matches in Srinagar, Pulwama, UdhamPur, Kargil, Jammu, Rajouri, and Poonch. The world is watching that it’s a grand celebration here today. We deliver a message of peace, harmony, and independence.

These formal speeches were followed by an electrifying musical performance by the renowned singers of Pakistan, Masooma Anwar, and Asrar Ahmed, succeeded by the fireworks giving a finishing touch to the formal ceremony.

The league started right after the ceremony with the first night match, under the floodlights, between Rawalakot Hawks and Mirpur royal captained by Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik respectively. Rawlakot Hawks batted first and on the loss of 6 wickets, they set the target of 195 for Mirpur Royals. During their innings, Shahid Afridi came in for batting at number six and the cracking sound of his sixer on the first ball was definitely heard by the discourteous Indian media and BCCI while the audience of KPL applauded vigorously. Mirpur Royals in response played a great game but a hattrick by Waseem Jr. turned the game and unfortunately, the Royals lost the game by 43 runs. All the invitees and audiences across the globe enthusiastically enjoyed the game and exhibited their love for KPL.

The second day of KPL was graced by high-profile dignitaries from bureaucracy and the Government of AJ&K. This day marked history by breaking the digital viewership record of any league in Pakistan with 4.6 million reach globally. The day started in the daylight with Kotli Lions playing against Bagh Stallions led by Kamran Akmal and Shaan Masood. Kotli Lions set a target of 170 runs that was achieved by Bagh stallions grasping a victory with 5 wickets in hand with a thrilling contest. The day closed in a night match under floodlights with a contest between Overseas Warriors of Imad Wasim and Muzaffarabad Tigers of Muhammad Hafeez. Batting first, Overseas Warriors scored 153 for the loss of 8 wickets, and professor’s Muzaffarabad Tigers fought for it to win the game by 7 wickets.

2 matches were scheduled for the next day as well. The first match was played between Bagh Stallions and Mirpur Royals. The Stallions played in an aggressive action and made a huge total of 211 for the opponents. Malik’s openers and batting line responded a similar way in this thrilling game but luck was not on their side. Mirpur Royals made 196 for the loss of 8 wickets and Stallions got the 2 winning points moving up in the points table. However, the night match was abandoned due to rain and 1 point was given to each team i.e. Rawalakot Hawks and Kotli lions.

9th August 2021, again 2 matches were played relishing the craving of spectators around the globe. Mirpur Royals did a fabulous attack restricting Overseas Warrior to 145 for the loss of 6 wickets and achieved the target in 18 overs. The night match was an extravaganza for the audience globally setting new records of viewership. Rawalakot Hawks batted first and made 175 for the loss of 7 wickets. Muzaffarabad Tigers were chasing the target and fought courageously. the match was a thrilling action by both teams and no one knew what will happen till the last ball of the match. Afridi’s youngsters won by 1 run when they took a fabulous catch of Sohail Tanveer on the last ball. The Secretary of Sports, Commissioner Muzaffarabad, and other dignitaries were present in VIP Pavillion and adored the electrifying game along with the audience.

Kotli Lions was facing Muzaffarabad Tigers on the 5th day of the league in the first match. Loins set a target of 196 that was achieved by Professor’s Tigers for the loss of 5 wickets. The second match of the day was a fight for victory amongst Bagh Stallions and Overseas Warriors. The Warriors won the match chasing the target of 186 and made 190 with a winning sixer. The viewers were entertained by the exciting performances of the teams.

The sixth day of the league kicked off with the victory of Rawalakot Hawks over Bagh Stallions in the first match. Hawks won by 5 wickets chasing the target of 157. The night match was an incredible challenge between Mirour Royals and Kotli lions. Malik’s youngsters set a target of 211 for the loss of 6 wickets. The Lions in response was restricted to 211 with a wicket on the last ball finishing in a tie. The match was continued with a super over to have a winner. Mirpur Royals were dominant and easily won the match by chasing a target of 3 runs. But the invitees and the spectators around the globe had a great evening to entertain their craving for a thrilling cricket.

The pool matches continued the next day with Bagh Stallions playing against Muzaffarabad Tigers. Again the target went up to 213 set by Stallions and chased by the Tigers gaining victory by 4 wickets. Whereas the evening became entertainment when Overseas Warriors won the match by 7 wickets from the undefeated Rawalakot Hawks.

Even on the 7th day, various high-profile dignitaries graced the venue of league matches and adored the setup as well as loved the thrilling moments of the matches. Kotli Lions were dominant on Overseas warrior in the first match and won the match by 8 wickets in chase of 211 runs. The second match was another big blast when Muzaffarabad tigers played destructively setting the highest target of 227 for the loss of 6 wickets. But the opponent Royals replied

similarly and chased the target with a sixer. They won the match by 5 wickets after a thrilling fight that entertained the viewers around the Globe.

14th August 2021, the independence day of Pakistan was the day when an independence ceremony was scheduled after the league’s first qualifier match. The atmosphere of the event was electrifying in the presence of flag-bearing crowed. The match was played between Muzaffarabad Tigers and Rawalakot Hawks. The Professor’s eleven set a target of 165 runs for Afridi’s youngsters. Hawks made a tough struggle but in the end, the Tigers won the match by 7 runs. Muzaffarabad Tigers went straight to the final whereas Rawalakot Hawks had to play against another qualifier to reach the finals.

The Independence Day ceremony was held after the qualifier match. Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan Niazi (Prime Minister of AJ&K), Sheheryar Khan Afridi (Chairman Kashmir Committee), Arif Malik (President KPL) Ch. Shahzad Akhtar (CEO KPL), Shahid Afridi (Brand Ambassador KPL), and Legendary Mushtaq Ahmed (Former Player) graced the event. Amir Sohail (Former Captain) hosted the short event and all of the above participants congratulated the nation on this occasion. They praised the motherland for giving us the freedom to achieve what has been achieved and also revealed the execution of KPL. They paid tribute to the martyrs of independence and prayed for the independence of IIOK.

The next day, the first eliminator match was another thrilling battle between Mirpur Royals and Overseas Warriors for the KPL champions’ trophy. The Warriors set a target of 160 for the loss of 9 wickets in the leadership of Imad Wasim. Shoiab Malik led the Royals from the front and chased the target for the loss of 6 wickets, moving ahead to 2nd eliminator. The startling evening was adorned by high-profile personages and celebrities along with the rousing crowd.

On 16 August 2021, the eliminator-2 was another extravaganza for dignitaries and spectators around the globe. Mirpur Royals crushed the bowling line of Rawalakot Hawks by setting a huge and the highest target of 237 for the loss of 4 wickets in 20 overs. The analysts and crowd were sure to an extent that the Royals will win the match. However, when the Hawks arrived on the pitch for batting, they crumpled the bowling line of the Royals and won the match by chasing the target, moving ahead straight to the final. The battle between both teams was astonishing and revealed their craving for the trophy.

Finally, the day arrived that everybody was waiting to know who will lift the KPL trophy. The ground was filled with the crowd and a huge number of cricket fans were present outside as well. A paraglider after a magnificent show in the sky came down and handed over the ball to empire to be used for the final match. Rawalakot Hawks and Muzaffarabad Tigers were there to contest each other in this final match. Batting first, Afridi’s Hawks set a target of 169 for the loss of 7 wickets. Tigers of Hafeez played a thrilling match and at one time it seemed they will become the champions, but Rawalakot Hawks did not let that happen. They restricted Muzaffarabad Tigers to 161 and became the Champions of the first season of KPL. The atmosphere was exceptional in the presence of VIPs and celebrities on the ground. Rawlakot Hawks in the captaincy of Shahid Afidi lift the KPL Champions trophy. The prize distribution ceremony was

filled with excitement as well as emotional moments. The final of KPL set new records of viewership for the first season of any cricket league globally.

After the sensational Final match which saw Rawalakot Hawks triumphing over Muzaffarabad Tigers on 17th August, the Closing Ceremony was held with flying colors to celebrate the successful conclusion of SRG KPL Season One. Dignitaries including CEO KPL Ch. Shahzad Akhtar, President KPL Arif Malik, Chairman Kashmir Committee Shehriyar Afridi, PM AJK Sardar Abdul Qayyum Niazi and Director Cricket Operations Taimoor Khan delivered speeches, showcasing the world that the Pakistani side of Kashmir is peaceful, and people here have all their freedoms in stark contrast of the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir.

Salman Arshad from Mirpur Royals was awarded with the Kashmiri Player of the Tournament, Muhammad Waseem Jr. of Muzaffarabad Tigers as the Fielder of the Tournament, Hussain Talat from Rawalakot Hawks as the Player of the Tournament, Bismillah Khan from Rawalakot Hawks as the Wicketkeeper of the Tournament, Asif Afridi from Rawalakot Hawks as Bowler of the Tournament, Zeeshan Ashraf from Muzaffarabad Tigers as Batsman of the Tournament.

Champions were awarded with Rs.10 Million Cash Award, and the SRG KPL 2021 Champions Trophy.

 

Impact:

Kashmir Premier League proved to be a successful event marked with International Standard Venue, Production, Broadcasting and Viewership. SRG KPL Season 1 beat all records for a sports event first season on digital in Pakistan, with over 40 million + live views. The opening match and final both scored over 5 million + views with a concurrent peak of 500k+ digital viewers on the final (HBLPSL 6 final had a high peak of 719k).

Resultingly, The voice of Kashmir got amplified at a global level through cricket diplomacy. People got to know the real, unbiased reality and public sentiments of the people residing in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. KPL highlighted Kashmir on the global sports map and was a manifestation of the fact that there is tremendous talent and potential in Kashmiri youth.

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Written by Tayyab Mushtaq & Saadain Gardezi

Tayyab Malik, with 18 years of experience in radio broadcasting and production, is a freelance writer and columnist. He is thriving to change the society through propelling talks.

Saadain Gardezi is a Sub-Editor at Global Affairs. He is currently pursuing his undergraduate studies in the field of Strategic Studies, from National Defence University Islamabad. He tweets at @saadain.gardezi & can be reached at saadaingardezi@outlook.com

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