We, the people of sub-continent have a long-standing love with the game of cricket since early 1800s. At that time, British people introduced the game in the subcontinent with the name “creckett”. With every passing day, cricket gained popularity in majority of the subcontinent. At present, cricket is only game in the Pakistan which is able to maintain its popularity in majority of the population. The day, Mr. Shehryar khan Afridi took charge as Chairman Parliamentary Kashmir Committee, he floated the idea of Kashmir Premier League (KPL) as a mode of “Cricket Diplomacy” to show the world a positive and peaceful side of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. On one side, in Illegally Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), there is curfew, political unrest, human rights violations and social media black-out etc. While on other side we have Azad Jammu and Kashmir, a peaceful and prospective, where even international players were part of KPL 2021.
First Edition of Kashmir premier League was held in Muzaffarabad (The Capital of AJK) which started from August 7 until August 17, 2021. It became most viewed live sports launch on digital media platform in the history of Pakistan with over 5.6 million views within first day. Apart from winning or losing the tournament, there’s always a parameter “Fan Club” for success or popularity of any franchise in any sports. Muzaffarabad Tigers emerged as a team with ‘highest Fan Base” and most popular team of the tournament. Many said that this was just because of the advantage Muzaffarabad Tigers had due to their home ground as the tournament was held in Muzaffarabad. Regardless, no one can deny the efforts of the team owner, Mr. Arshad Khan Tanoli and his team including marketing, social media, branding and PR teams. Not to mention their players, who with their best and memorable performances made the franchise as the most favorite team of the KPL for many.In the start, Pakistani superstar Shahid Khan Afridi was supposed to be the captain of Muzaffarabad Tigers but at later on he joined Rawalakot Hawks as their captain. Muzaffarabad Tigers then onboarded another Pakistani star Muhammad Hafeez as the captain for the team in KPL 2021. Muzaffarabad Tigers was only Franchise in KPL 2021, who organized a cricket tournament in AJK – Palandari to hunt the Talent before first edition of Kashmir premier League. Owner of Muzaffarabad Tigers, Mr. Arshad Khan Tanoli while expressing his views about Muzaffarabad Tigers told that with many other positives, major point while developing Muzaffarabad Tigers was to show peaceful and positive side of Azad Jammu and Kashmir to the whole world through cricket diplomacy.
He further added, KPL was best chance for local players to show off their talent at larger stage of the game – Propaganda by Indian media and BCCI Against Kashmir Premier League played an important role in success of first edition of KPL. The reaction that was shown from international players like T Dilshan (Sri Lanka), H Gibbs (South Africa) revealed the real face of India and BCCI to the world’s cricket community. Mr. Tanoli further added, tourism industry was also on rise during KPL season one, as only for the final match, over one Lac tourists were entered in Muzaffarabad. While talking about the success of the KPL 2021, Mr. Tanoli said, ” it was more successful than our expectations, even exceeded the expectations of the owners of the league “.When he was asked about his plans for the upcoming activities in AJ&K, especially in Muzaffarabad, he responded, “We have plans – we want to build an international standard state of the art cricket academy in the Muzaffarabad, for which we have already presented our plan to the Government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Muzaffarabad Tigers would bear all expenses for establishing the academy whenever government of AJK facilities them with allocation of area etc.” Mr. Tanoli added, we’ll try to get best available talent for our team in next edition of KPL through different levels like trials, cricket tournaments at school, college and university level.He also hinted that if University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (UAJK) or any other educational institutes from Muzaffarabad (in specific) and from AJK (in general) want engagement of Muzaffarabad Tigers in their sports weeks or any sports related activities, he will facilitate them. Mr. Tanoli also hinted that his team would be happy to be a part of Ramzan Cricket Tournament (the biggest cricket event of the year in Muzaffarabad), if the organizers of the Tournament – Police Department of Azad Jammu and Kashmir ask them for support or participation.
While talking about the people of Muzaffarabad, he said, “due to Covid bubble restrictions and tight security conditions we were not able to move freely in the masses, however, every single day, I and my team members got calls and invitations for dinners, lunches and breakfasts from different people of Muzaffarabad. People of Muzaffarabad showed complete ownership towards their home team. They supported us in the best way possible. They came in large numbers to the ground and even after we lost the final, people were there on roads to say goodbye to our team with love. We can’t forget “Kulchas” and “Bakar-khaanis” of the Muzaffarabad.”While talking about cricket Academy in the Muzaffarabad, he said that it was their plan (Muzaffarabad Tigers) to build an international standard cricket academy in Muzaffarabad, but there is news that KPL Organizers want to build a cricket academy (Shahid Khan Afridi Cricket Academy) in Muzaffarabad. Mr. Tanoli suggested that ShahidAfridi, being captain of Rawalakot Hawks must work for cricket Academy in the Rawalakot – similar must be done by the other teams in their areas.He said that we have a plan, finance and future directions for the international standard cricket Academy in Muzaffarabad – Now it’s up to the government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, that how they can facilitate us and when they allow us to work for this project. We are also keen to do community development programs in their relevant city as well as in AJ&K. For KPL 2022, Mr. Tanoli has high hopes from his team – Muzaffarabad Tigers. He added, we’ll organize our own trials this year in every part of Azad Kashmir to get the best local players in our team. While talking about addition of new team in KPL, he suggested that at least for first three seasons, any addition doesn’t seem plausible. He further added, announcement of new team “Jammu Janbaz” by President of AJK Mr. Masood Khan (President then) was really shocking for all franchise owners as there’s wasn’t any prior discussion with team owners about addition of any team in KPL.
Director marketing Muzaffarabad Tigers, Ms. MaryamEjaz told that response of the people was more than our expectations – our marketing campaign with Special Communication Organization (SCO), Our PR boxes (including different items), our team owner’s interactive nature towards masses made the franchise, the most popular team of the Kashmir Premier League. She also hinted that they have plans to go in to the schools and colleges for their marketing campaigns before KPL 2022. She also gave credit to their social media team for the popularity of their team who worked really hard to keep the digital audience engaged. She, while appreciating their team sponsors told that “The Sponsors of Muzaffarabad Tigers also contributed a lot in the popularity of the team by showing their support and presence in Muzaffarabad. This helps the business owners to see opportunities in the area to establish private sector which eventually is going to create more job opportunities for the youth. In the marketing reach out for sponsors, there were healthy interactions with a lot of businesses that showed interest in exploring new business opportunities in Muzaffarabad and the surrounding areas. It is hard to list down all the steps which led to the popularity of the Muzaffarabad Tigers as the Tigers of Kashmir Premier League however, one thing is for sure, if government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and all other stakeholders provide them legal support and facilitate them – Muzaffarabad Tigers can do wonders for the people of AJK in many other fields apart from cricket as well.