That time of the year

K Shahid previews the fifth edition of the Pakistan Super League

That time of the year
The next five weeks would be dedicated entirely to the Pakistan Super League 2020 – not just this space, but nationwide. So without further ado, here is this year’s PSL preview and predictions.

6. Islamabad United

Islamabad’s two PSL wins in the first three seasons were based largely on the Misbah-ul-Haq-Dean Jones think-tank coupled with younger blood hungry to prove themselves. The core of Islamabad United Shadab Khan, Rumman Raees, Hussain Talat, Asif Ali and Faheem Ashraf, all made it to the national side – but have all fallen out of it, with skipper Shadab the only remnant, albeit with dodgy form.

While Misbah might have returned to United, now in the coaching role, Jones has joined Karachi Kings. With the local contingent exhibiting mixed form, United’s season might actually hinge on an impressive overseas contingent led by Luke Ronchi, in addition to Colin Ingram, Dawid Malan, Colin Munro and Dale Steyn.

Even so, an overdose of Pakistan team rejects vying to get back into the Pakistani side might be Islamabad’s downfall this season.

Squad: Shadab Khan (c), Faheem Ashraf, Asif Ali, Saif Badar, Amad Butt, Zafar Gohar, Rizwan Hussain, Colin Ingram, Akif Javed, Musa Khan, Dawid Malan, Colin Munro, Rumman Raees, Luke Ronchi, Ahmed Safi Abdullah, Phil Salt, Dale Steyn, Hussain Talat

Darren Sammy

5. Multan Sultans

The Sultans’ problems might start from their skipper. Shan Masood might have turned the corner in Tests, but he’s no T20 player. With uncertainty over his place in the side, with the mandated role of captaincy, one fears Shan might go the way of Azhar Ali who led Lahore Qalandars’ first disastrous campaign.

The Sultans have an impressive opening attack in Mohammad Irfan and Junaid Khan. Usman Qadir working in tandem, or as an understudy to, Imran Tahir is an exciting prospect.

Sohail Tanvir and of course Shahid Afridi are as experienced as it gets in the T20 format, but might actually be past their sell-by date. Proven PSL stars Ravi Bopara and Rilee Rossouw might provide Sultans some glimmer, with Moeen Ali a veritable match winner, but there’s just too much uncertainty surrounding the Sultans’ lineup. They would have to gel in from the get-go to make it deep into the tournament.

Squad: Shan Masood (c), Moeen Ali, Shahid Afridi, Fabian Allen, Zeeshan Ashraf, Bilawal Bhatti, Ravi Bopara, Mohammad Ilyas, Mohammad Irfan, Junaid Khan, Wayne Madsen, Rohail Nazir (wk), Rilee Rossouw, Usman Qadir, Ali Shafiq, Khushdil Shah, Imran Tahir, Sohail Tanvir, James Vince

4. Peshawar Zalmi

With three successive finals – one of which they won in 2017 – the 2020 season might just be a year too many for Zalmi to hold on to the same core team. Where Darren Sammy has been a permanent fixture, more so owing to his leadership and brand than the cricketing contributions, the likes of Hasan Ali and Wahab Riaz – the two most successful bowlers in PSL history – might no longer be at the peak of their powers.

Kamran Akmal has been the one consistent performer with the bat for Zalmi, but are Peshawar expecting too much from him? Other local players they appear to be banking on are Imam-ul-Haq, who is slightly out of his comfort zone in T20s, and Shoaib Malik, who is just counting down the time till the World T20.

Kieron Pollard, who will be available from March 7, can singlehandedly decide matches, and tournaments, but he would need the old guard to show their customary form if Zalmi are to make their fourth final on the bounce.

Squad: Darren Sammy (c) Kamran Akmal (wk), Aamir Ali, Hasan Ali, Rahat Ali, Haider Ali Khan, Adil Amin, Umar Amin, Tom Banton (wk), Carlos Brathwaite, Liam Dawson, Lewis Gregory, Imam-ul-Haq, Amir Khan, Liam Livingstone, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Mohsin, Kieron Pollard, Wahab Riaz

Babar Azam

3. Quetta Gladiators

Along with Peshawar Zalmi, defending champions Quetta Gladiators are the most consistent side in PSL – even if United boast two titles. However, what has customarily been Gladiators’ strength might just be their weakness this year.

Sarfraz Ahmed’s contribution had a major say in Gladiators’ win last year, and the 2016-17 runners up finishes. But with Sarfraz no longer the Pakistan captain, or in the national side, will he exude the same confidence that he did while simultaneously skippering a record-breaking international side?

Also, for the first time a lot of focus would be on his batting, which has never been an area where he has especially excelled as far as the T20 format is concerned. He will be joined by traditional heavy PSL scorers Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad, all of whom were collectively axed after Pakistan’s clean sweep against Sri Lanka at home in September.

Jason Roy, arguably the highest profile overseas player in the league, and Shane Watson are absolute giants of the format. Along with Ben Cutting, Gladiators’ foreign contingent is second to none and might propel them deep into the tournament.

But Quetta would need their embattled Pakistani contingent to come to the party, if they are to have a shot at defending their crown. They do, however, have two of the finest young pacers in the country in Mohammad Hasnain and Naseem Shah

Squad: Sarfraz Ahmed (c), Fawad Ahmed, Umar Akmal, Ahsan Ali, Ben Cutting, Mohammad Hasnain, Arish Ali Khan, Azam Khan, Sohail Khan, Khurram Manzoor, Zahid Mehmood, Tymal Mills, Abdul Nasir, Mohammad Nawaz, Keemo Paul, Jason Roy, Naseem Shah, Ahmed Shehzad, Shane Watson

2. Lahore Qalandars

It would take a brave person to bet on Qalandars finishing anywhere but sixth. Four successive seasons, and the who’s who of T20 cricket – the likes of Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum, AB DeVilliers – have come and gone but Lahore have clung on to the bottom, often inexplicably.

Where Chris Lynn and Ben Dunk are high-profile franchise T20 players, the Qalandars strategy this time around appears to be focusing on creating a team that gels instead of banking on a marquee signing. Overseas purchases like Samit Patel and Seekkuge Prasanna underline shrewdness in the purchases.

In that regard the Pakistani core of Sohail Akhtar, Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf might actually work well for the Qalandars.

The first couple of games would be crucial. If the Qalandars are off to early losses, the déjà vu might kick in again. It will be all or nothing for Lahore this year.

Squad: Sohail Akhtar (c), Shaheen Afridi, Jaahid Ali, Salman Butt, Ben Dunk (wk, AUS), Mohammad Faizan, Mohammad Hafeez, Dilbar Hussain, Chris Lynn (AUS), Samit Patel (ENG), Seekkuge Prasanna (SL), Farzan Raja, Haris Rauf, Usman Shinwari, Dane Vilas (wk, SA), David Wiese (SA), Fakhar Zaman

1. Karachi Kings

Even if not with the uncanny consistency of Lahore, the Karachi Kings have similarly been a failure story of the PSL so far, having not made the final in any of the four seasons. That, however, might change this year.

The Kings showcase a core of leading Pakistani T20 stars spearheaded by Babar Azam, and including Imad Wasim, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Amir and the comeback bound Sharjeel Khan, with impressive overseas signings like Alex Hales and Cameron Delport.

The national T20 captain, and the number one batsman in the format, Babar Azam, will look to finally make a PSL tournament his own. If Sharjeel displays half of the exploits that he did before his ban kicked in, the Kings top order alone would overpower the opponents.

But title runs often bank on past triumphs, which is the one crucial ingredient missing in this squad. However, they will have that in abundance in the dugout with two-time PSL winning coach Dean Jones.

Squad: Imad Wasim (c), Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Amir, Umaid Asif, Babar Azam, Cameron Delport, Alex Hales, Arshad Iqbal, Chris Jordan, Sharjeel Khan, Ali Khan, Umer Khan, Mitch McClenaghan, Usama Mir, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Chadwick Walton, Aamir Yamin, Awais Zia.