The second edition of the Pakistan Super League starts in Dubai on Thursday (February 9). Some new players have joined the league, some have been forced to withdraw through injuries, and some others owing to international commitments. Here is how the teams are tipped to do in the league.
Islamabad United came from behind in the first PSL, having lost four of their first six games before going all the way. Their task of defending the title will be tough as their Misbah-ul-Haq, their captain, is struggling for runs.
Misbah’s form will not only decide his own fate as Pakistan Test skipper but also that of his franchise. Islamabad will miss Andre Russell, the West Indian allrounder who has been banned for a year over a doping violation. Russell headed the bowling charts with 16 wickets last year. Together with comeback king at international level Mohammad Sami (12 wickets), Russell provided wickets when needed. Mohammad Irfan also adds fire to the pace bowling while Samuel Badree, the West Indian legspinner, Imran Khalid and Shadab Khan, the emerging leggie, will share spin duties.
In local stars Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif, Islamabad have an explosive opening pair but Babar Azam, who excelled with three consecutive One-Day International hundreds last year and one in Australia last month, will be missed after transferring to Karachi Kings. Shane Watson, the former Australian allrounder, Dwayne Smith, the West Indian bashed, and Sam Billings and Ben Duckett (the England duo which is both partially available), will lend support to batting.
Player to watch: Shadab Khan
Shadab, 18, could be a surprise package for Islamabad. Described as one of the most talented spinners in Pakistan by Misbah, Shadab is also a handy batsman, having hit a brilliant hundred for Pakistan ‘A’ in Zimbabwe last year.
With a shrewd coach in Moin Khan and a lively skipper in Sarfraz Ahmed, Quetta Gladiators surprised everyone with their runner-up finish in the first PSL. With Sarfraz tipped to take over as Pakistan captain in all three formats, a win in the PSL will also boost Moin’s claims to become the national team’ coach in future. Their best pick was Viv Richards, the West Indian master blaster whose presence in the dugout as mentor not only motivated the players but also helped the team support staff when in need of advice.
Kevin Pietersen, the England discard who is widely popular in Twenty20 leagues around the world, not only anchored the batting but also helped Sarfraz in field settings and planning. Ahmed Shahzad and Luke Wright ensure a fast and sound start while the middle order comprises Asad Shafiq, Mahmudullah, Anwar Ali and Thisara Perera. Rilee Rossouw, the South African batsman, is the new addition and can be handy when the tempo needs a lift in the final overs. Mohammad Nawaz was one of their star perforners as an allrounder whose PSL show earned him a Pakistan call.
Tymal Mills from England, and fellow Twenty20 specialists Umar Gul, Mir Hamza and Noor Wali lead the pace attack while the veteran Zulfiqar Babar, Nawaz and Saad Nasim will share spin duties.
Player to watch: Tymal Mills
“Watch out for Mills,” thundered Sarfraz. Mills has the uncanny ability to shift from fast to slow with the same action and Quetta will be looking to him for crucial early wickets.
Karachi Kings, like Lahore Qalandars, were the real under-achievers in the inaugural edition. While Lahore were the first to go out, Karachi were eliminated in the first playoffs. The teams were so linked to each other that Karachi’s only wins came against Lahore – typifying the rivalry between the two cities.
For the second edition, Karachi have traded Universe Boss Chris Gayle from Lahore and are hoping the master blaster does the same he did in the IPL – flopped in the first edition and blossomed in the next.
They also had a mini turmoil in the first PSL when Shoaib Malik stepped down from captaincy, leading to obvious resentment. Ravi Bopara, the England discard, led the team thereafter and ended as the Player of the Tournament with 329 runs and 13 wickets.
In now retied Sri Lankan Kumar Sangakkara, Karachi have a wise captain who is expected to guide a balanced outfit to better results. In Kieron Pollard and Ryan McLaren, they also have two good allrounders but with only four foreign players allowed in the XI, one of the two will have to mostly sit out.
Explosive batsman Shahzaib Hasan or Khurram Manzoor will partner Gayle at the top while the addition of Babar Azam will strengthen the middle order. Malik will also look to improve upon his abysmal showings of last year.
Mohammad Amir leads the pace attack with Sohail Khan and Rahat Ali for support — almost a full Pakistan attack. Imad Wasim, Usama Mir and teenager Abrar Ahmed will handle the spin duties. Rashid Latif’s induction as mentor will be handy for Mickey Arthur, the coach.
Player to watch: Abrar Ahmed
Mentor Latif describes Abrar as a “secret weapon”, and with an emerging player needed in the starting line-up, the Sunil Narine-like finger spinner can be a surprise package.
The most lively side of the PSL, Peshawar Zalmi – meaning youth — is also the most popular team among the Pathan expats (people from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan) who form a majority of the crowds in the UAE. Their love for the team is because of popular and maverick allrounder Shahid Afridi, who is not only the key player but one of the organisers of the side.
This year’s PSL is also very important for Afridi as he has hinted at announcing his retirement from international cricket if his team wins the title in Lahore on March 5. Typical of his style and nature, Afridi changed his mind on international retirement after the World Twenty20 in India last year.
Darren Sammy, the two-time World T20-winning captain, is the new leader and is expected to guide the Peshawar side in the same manner as he did the West Indians.
Peshawar has enough firepower in both batting and bowling with Mohammad Hafeez and Tamim Iqbal (partially available after the one-off Test in India) opening the batting. Eoin Morgan will be the key to big totals, just as Kamran Akmal and Marlon Samuels are. Kamran has had a prolific domestic season with over 1000 runs in the Quaid Trophy and 500 in one-dayers. Shakib Al Hasan will also be useful when available. Iftikhar Ahmed, Samit Patel, Sohaib Maqsood and Haris Sohail (fit after a 15-month layoff following knee surgery) can also chip in when needed.
Zalmi’s pace attack is the best in the PSL with fit-again Junaid Khan raring to go alongside Wahab Riaz and Chris Jordan. The find of the inaugural PSL, Hasan Ali, is also key to Zalmi’s attack. Afridi, Mohammad Asghar and Shakib will handle the spin bowling.
Player to watch: Khusdil Shah
Khusdil, a 21-year-old left-hand batsman, was one of the top performers in the National Cup one-day tournament and has the ability to smash the ball to all parts of the ground.
Lahore Qalandars were top of the flop-charts in the first edition of PSL. Despite an explosive batting line-up with Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Umar Akmal and South African Cameron Delport, they were ousted in the first round.
A weak captain in Azhar Ali (who never played a Twenty20 International for Pakistan) and lackof firepower in bowling led to their failure. They have strengthened their side by bringing the now retired New Zealand superstar Brendon McCullum as skipper. McCullum is expected to not only give impetus to the batting but also guide the team to better results.
Jason Roy, the dashing England opener, is expected to open the innings with McCullum until he leaves for England ahead of the one-day series in the Carribean. Domestic performer Fakhr Zaman will then take Roy’s place while Delport, Umar, Grant Elliott, James Franklin and Azhar will bolster the batting.
Lahore brought in Twenty20 specialist Sohail Tanvir from Karachi, and he is expected to shoulder the pack attack with Pakistan discards Bilawal Bhatti and Aamer Yamin. Sunil Narine and Yasir Shah – two most accomplished spinners at international level — will also be key in taking wickets for their team.
Player to watch: Usman Qadir
Usman, 23 and the son of legendary Pakistan legspinner Abdul Qadir, has yet to turn his potential into performance at domestic level. PSL is the stage where he can come of age.