Islamabad United are the reigning champions of PSL. © PCB
With teams now more cognizant of the demands of T20 leagues after three Pakistan Super League editions, franchises made complete use of the retention window, player draft, and replacement draft to strike the right balance in their lineups over the past four months.
Cricbuzz takes a look at how the six franchises look ahead of the fourth edition of the tournament.
Shadab Khan, Luke Ronchi, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Sami, Asif Ali, Ian Bell, Rumman Raees, Samit Patel, Philip Salt, Hussain Talat, Sahibzada Farhan, Zafar Gohar, Waqas Maqsood, Cameron Delport, Musa Khan, Nasir Nawaz, Wayne Parnell, Zahir Khan, Amad Butt, Rizwan Hussain
The reigning champions persisted with their core group. After all, why make alterations in a successful combination? They might have a new captain for this season in Mohammad Sami – who has done a decent job leading Karachi in Pakistan’s domestic set-up – but the presence of their mainstays in Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Hussain Talat, Rumman Raees, and Asif Ali means that they won’t have to tinker much with their strategy.
Islamabad United is known for its thinking management and it reflects from their record in the tournament’s history. They have the best win percentage in PSL with 59.67 percent. It’s not like it is needed to be mentioned, but two of the three PSL trophies (from the first and the third edition) are in their cupboard.
They have arguably the most complete squad from which they can derive a well-rounded XI. To make the most of the powerplay overs, United retained Luke Ronchi – who accumulated 433 runs, the most in the last edition, at a strike rate 182. To accompany him, United have two hard-hitting batsmen in Cameron Delport (4,175 T20 runs at 138) and 22-year-old Sussex opener Phil Salt who scored at 173.20 in the shorter-format last year. To counter spin in conditions that will largely favour the type of bowling, they pocketed Ian Bell in the Diamond category. The veteran England batsman’s average against spin bowling in 2018 was in the high 180s.
The presence of Hussain Talat, Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, and Faheem Ashraf adds to the firepower in the middle-order. And, the fact that they all are local players further adds to their advantage. Their multi-faceted pace battery includes raw pace of Mohammad Sami, guile of Rumman Raees, Faheem’s impeccable length bowling, and Wayne Parnell’s international experience. Shadab’s leg-spin and Samit Patel’s left-arm orthodox promises to keep the opposition batsmen quite in the middle-overs.
To be honest, after looking at that squad, this section feels a mere formality. However, the absence of Misbah ul Haq, who is credited for their successes in the 2016 and 2018 editions, from their camp this time around can hurt their strategic planning. With that, the poor form of Asif Ali and Faheem Ashraf may deprive them of the power-hitting in the second half of the innings.
Mohammad Amir, Babar Azam, Colin Munro, Usman Khan Shinwari, Colin Ingram, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Rizwan, Ravi Bopara, Sikandar Raza, Awais Zia, Aaron Summers, Usama Mir, Sohail Khan, Iftikhar Ahmad, Ali Imran, Abrar Ahmed, Aamer Yamin, Ben Dunk, Liam Livingstone, Jaahid Ali, Umer Khan
Karachi Kings retained the maximum number of players in top two categories — Platinum and Diamond. After all, the six have the potential to turn any XI into a daunting one. Just have a look at the first six names above again. They were hurt by the injuries to their captain Imad Wasim and Shahid Afridi, now with Multan Sultans, in the second half of the tournament last year. But, the team showed massive improvement from the first two seasons by finishing at the second spot on the points table.
Kamran Akmal’s ferocious 27-ball 77 in the second eliminator crushed their hopes of playing in front of the home crowd. But, they will be playing two group matches at Karachi’s National Stadium this year. The availability of all overseas players – except for Colin Munro who misses the first week – is an advantage as all are likely to be with the Kings across the season.
The red-hot form of Imad Wasim and Babar Azam is bound to benefit the franchise. Since his return from the knee injury in October last year, the left-arm orthodox has bowled at less than run-a-ball in five of the nine international matches. His bowling average since return is over two runs less than his overall. Babar on the other hand is in sublime touch, accumulating boundaries, that also in clusters, at will. Now imagine how lethal their opening partnerships promises to be when Colin Munro, who has the best strike rate of 162 for a batsman with at least 1000 T20I, will join the squad. Colin Ingram, Ravi Bopara, and Sikandar Raza bolster the batting department.
Their seam-bowling options are also impressive. They have Mohammad Amir, Usman Shinwari, and Sohail Khan who will be assisted by the all-round abilities of Aamer Yamin and Bopara.
Despite the tendency of the pitches in the UAE and Pakistan to favour spinners, Karachi Kings have only one reliable spinner in Usama Mir to suffocate the opposition. Though Mir has had a promising start to his career, overburdening him with the responsibility might break him down. Perhaps, they had the realization immediately after the player draft. It could be the reason why they picked Umer Khan, a 19-year-old left-arm orthodox, as their 21st player. Khan though can be a promising addition considering his match returns of 7 for 107 two months ago in his only first-class match.
Wahab Riaz, Hasan Ali, Keiron Pollard, Darren Sammy, Kamran Akmal, Misbah ul Haq, Liam Dawson, Dawid Malan, Umer Amin, Umaid Asif, Khalid Usman, Wayne Madsen, Sohaib Maqsood, Jamal Anwar, Sameen Gul, Nabi Gul, Andre Fletcher, Chris Jordan, Ibtisam Sheikh, Samiullah
The consistent performers. They have twice finished the group-stages as the top side and are one of the three franchises to play two PSL finals. Their 57.57 success percentage is the second best. After bagging the title in 2017, they were runners-up in the last season. Their success is attributed to the thriving sense of brotherhood in the Zalmi camp. Its epitome was when their overseas players traveled to Lahore for the final in 2017 at a time when it was still pretty tough to convince the foreigner players to tour the country.
Despite Mohammad Hafeez and Tamim Iqbal leaving the side, majority of their core players remain in the side. The highest runs aggregator and the most wickets accumulator in the tournament’s history – Kamran Akmal and Wahab Riaz – belong to Zalmi. And, they have a successful T20 strategist in Darren Sammy as captain. In the player draft for this season they picked Misbah ul Haq, ostensibly to add more brain power. Also, they filled their last platinum spot with one of the most experienced T20 operators in Keiron Pollard.
Look at their pace battery. In Wahab Riaz – who has 48 wickets at the best bowling average and strike rate amongst the top wicket-takers – and Hasan Ali, they have bowlers who can hurl scorching reverse-swing deliveries in the middle and death overs. Umaid Asif, in prime form since the last PSL, and Sameen Gul can look after the powerplay overs. And, then there is Chris Jordan.
They might have the middle-order depth with Dawid Malan, Darren Sammy, and Kieron Pollard in the side, but there remains a question over who will be the other two players in their top three beside Kamran Akmal. The absence of another seasoned top-order batsman will put Akmal under massive burden. There is also a question of where will they adjust Misbah ul Haq. If the 44-year-old is to be adjusted, he eat up a spot of a youngster in either Sohaib Maqsood or Umar Amin. And, considering Misbah’s run in the previous PSL, his last T20 outing, that’s not a beneficial trade-off. Though they possess promising spinners in Ibtisam Sheikh and Liam Dawson, the absence of an established name in the department might put extra burden on the pair to choke the opposition batsmen in the middle-overs.
Sarfraz Ahmed, Sunil Narine, Dwayne Bravo, Shane Watson, Sohail Tanvir, Mohammad Nawaz, Rilee Rossouw, Umar Akmal, Fawad Ahmed, Anwar Ali, Saud Shakil, Mohammad Asghar, Danish Aziz, Ahsan Ali, Ghulam Mudassar, Mohammad Hasnain, Harry Gurney, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Azam Khan, Jalat Khan, Mohammad Irfan Jr
# Dwayne Smith covers for Dwayne Bravo from Feb 14-27
They ended up as runners-up in the first two editions and were particularly unfortunate the second time when their overseas players refused to travel to Lahore for the final which allowed Peshawar Zalmi to easily roll them over. They, last year, fell two runs short of keeping their chances alive of securing a berth in a PSL final for the third time in a thrilling finish of the first eliminator at Lahore.
Quetta Gladitors have strengthened their lineup with the additions of Dwayne Bravo, Sunil Narine, and Sohail Tanvir. They have also inducted batsmen Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad and in-form leggie Fawad Ahmed in the lineup. With Sarfraz Ahmed, captain of the most successful T20I side in the past two years, at the helm, the Gladiators can said to have a sure shot at securing a berth in the final this year.
They have the best spin unit. Sunil Narine, Mohammad Nawaz, Fawad Ahmed, and Mohammad Asghar provide Sarfraz with an opportunity to resort to mystery spin, wrist or finger spin at any instance. The addition of Mohammad Irfan Jr with the presence of Anwar Ali, Bravo, and Tanvir – the three will certainly contribute with the bat too — adds to their fast-bowling depth. Rilee Rossouw has been phenomenal this year scoring 558 T20 runs at a strike rate of over 150. Umar Akmal has a point to prove and he has put up decent scores in Pakistan’s domestic season over the past year. So, their bowling department and middle-order is pretty much covered.
Who opens with Shane Watson? They will perhaps name Ahmed Shehzad as his partner or use Sunil Narine as a makeshift. Then there is also a question over one-drop batsman. Otherwise a comprehensive lineup, there a small gap to plug with the absence of another established top-order batsman.
Shoaib Malik, Andre Russell, Shahid Afridi, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan, James Vince, Shan Masood, Chris Green, Johnson Charles, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Irfan Khan, Umar Siddiq, Laurie Evans, Nauman Ali, Mohammad Junaid, Mohammad Ilyas, Dan Christian, Tom Moores, Ali Shafiq, Shakeel Ansar, Hammad Azam
Multan Sultans were struck serious blows over the past six months. First their previous owners defaulted. Then their first pick of the draft, Steve Smith, got ruled out of the PSL due to an elbow injury. The addition of T20 specialists in Andre Russell, replacement for Smith albeit for seven matches, and Shahid Afridi – the first Pakistan cricketer to score 4,000 runs and take 300 wickets in the format – provide depth in both batting and bowling departments. The national call ups to Joe Denly and Nicholas Pooran see them getting replaced by their respective countrymen James Vince and Johsnson Charles. They are coached by Johan Botha this season rather than Tom Moody who had other commitments.
Sultans made a thumping start to PSL by winning four of their first five matches. At the half-way stage of the tournament, they were not only positioned at the top of the points table but were strong contenders to be one of the finalists. However, a poor run in the latter part of group-stages saw them failing to even secure a play-off spot.
The presence of experienced T20 cricketers of their captain Shoaib Malik, Andre Russell, and Shahid Afridi provide the necessary firepower for a T20 XI. With that, their dynamic pace lineup also promises to pose threats to the oppositions. Junaid Khan will look to make the most of this tournament to secure a spot in the Pakistan squad for the World Cup. Mohammad Irfan and Mohammad Abbas will be vital cogs with their respective abilities to extract sharp bounce and move the ball laterally in any conditions.
The unavailability of Steven Smith and Joe Denly has deprived Sultans of reliable batsmen in the middle-order that can anchor the innings. The presence of the pair along with power-hitters in the lineup would have struck an excellent balance in their batting unit. But, it is not like one can bet his money on Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik or Andre Russell to click with the bat. Their batting is the weak link.
Fakhar Zaman, AB de Villiers, Mohammad Hafeez, Yasir Shah, Carlos Brathwaite, Corey Anderson, Anton Devchich, Rahat Ali, Sandeep Lamichhane, Shaheen Afridi, Hassan Khan, Agha Salman, Sohail Akhtar, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Imran, Umair Maqsood, Brendon Taylor, Gauhar Ali, Aizaz Cheema, Harris Rauf, Saad Ali
# David Wiese and Hardus Viljoen cover for Carlos Brathwaite and Corey Anderson
Despite being the unsuccessful team in the history of the tournament, Lahore Qalandars enjoy towering popularity. They sign big T20 players – they picked Chris Gayle in the first edition and had Brendon McCullum as their captain in the next two seasons – but finish at the bottom of the points table every year. Most of their contests have been one-sided affairs, but the last season saw them produce two of the most exciting matches of the edition as their group-matches against Islamabad United and Karachi Kings, which they won and lost respectively, went to the Super Over.
They have the services of one of the most destructive batsmen of the contemporary era, AB de Villiers, this season. There’s also a change in the leadership as Mohammad Hafeez, picked in the Platinum category, leads them. Lahore Qalandars looked to cover every department with by bagging Carlos Brathwaite, Corey Anderson, and Sandeep Lamichhane in the player draft. The presence of youngsters like Hassan Khan, Sohail Akhtar, and Agha Salman provides depth to the batting and spin department. Young speedster Haris Rauf, who bowls in high 140kphs, is an exciting prospect to look forward to.
Lahore Qalandars have invested heavily in having a deep batting lineup. With Fakhar Zaman, Anton Devchich, and AB de Villiers in the top-order, the presence of Mohammad Hafeez, Corey Anderson, Sohail Akhtar, and Agha Salman in the middle promises just the right blend of aggression and cautiousness. Such is the depth and variety in their spin-department – Yasir Shah, Sandeep Lamichhane, Hassan Khan, Mohammad Hafeez – that their spinners can send down as many as 16 overs on wickets which will provide a great deal of assistance to them. Even their fast-bowling department seems profound with Shaheen Shah Afridi expected to lead the pack. Rahat Ali and Carlos Brathwaite can keep a lid on the flow of runs in the middle. Haris Rauf’s raw pace will add to the spice.
This might be the first edition that Lahore Qalandars have jotted down such a complete squad, but their lineups in the previous seasons have been daunting. Their batting has always seemed to be their strongest suit on paper, but it has been the major source of their poor run in the tournament. Despite the presence of big names, Qalandars somehow manage to throw away wickets. They have often struggled to bat out their quota of 20 overs.