The third edition of Pakistan’s premier Twenty20 (T20) tournament, the Pakistan Super League (PSL), will kick off from 22 February in Dubai.
As is the norm for all such high-profile tournaments in today’s commercially driven world of cricket, the PSL will start off with a glamour-filled opening ceremony before the teams get down to business in a series of games to be held in Dubai and Sharjah. The tournament will then move to Pakistan where the last three games — two eliminators and the final — are to be played in Lahore and Karachi respectively.
Whilst the first two editions of the PSL were contested by five franchises from Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Islamabad, the 2018 edition will have an additional team from Multan which adds a new dimension of interest as well as competition to the already hard-fought tournament.
In terms of preparations for this year’s PSL, it appears that none of the franchises have left any stones unturned to ensure they have the right personnel and preparations in place for this tournament. News of exhibition games between some franchises featuring the likes of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis along with many other younger players have been doing the rounds as have been statements of intent by all and sundry related to how the franchise they support will emerge as the deserved victor in this year’s tournament.
Separating hubris from fact, therefore, can become a difficult task when each team decides to outdo the other in hyping up their side, but regardless of which side you support, the fact is that the 2018 version of the PSL promises to be more interesting than the previous editions of the tournament.
Peshawar Zalmi were last year’s winners and given their superb track record, one would expect them to be the ones to watch out for as they look for their second title. In their captain, Darren Sammy, they have a charismatic leader who will more than make up for the absence of the other man of charisma, Shahid Afridi who has now moved to Karachi Kings. Sammy will be in charge of a team which has many potential match-winning batsmen in the shape of Kamran Akmal, who has been in excellent form in domestic cricket, veteran Mohammad Hafeez who hasn’t been short of runs in domestic cricket, or the T20 specialists like Dwayne Bravo and Shakib Al Hasan. The bowling department is served with some distinction by Wahab Riaz and the fast-improving Hasan Ali with Chris Jordan and Mohammad Asghar providing excellent support.
Moving on, the Lahore Qalandars are one team that have plenty to prove. In both editions of the PSL, the Qalandars have come to the party as a team which deserves to be the winners based upon their preparation and market hype, but sadly have nothing to show for their efforts and have finished last both times. This year, we are told, is that special year when the Qalandars will take the PSL by storm. On paper, there is every reason to believe that. If Umar Akmal, Chris Lynn, Brendon McCullum and Fakhar Zaman can fire, not many bowling line-ups will be able to stop them. There is of course great excitement amongst cricket fans who are looking forward to Shaheen Shah Afridi’s domination of batsmen but in reality, the tried and tested bowling strength of the likes of Sohail Khan, Yasir Shah and Sunil Narine is more likely to be what will take Lahore to the top.
Having improved steadily in both editions of the PSL, Karachi Kings stand at the crossroads of greatness in the PSL. If they can get their act together, they have the wherewithal to become champions. In Imad Wasim, they have a capable and courageous leader and in Babar Azam, who occupies the number one position in ICC's ranking for T20I batsmen, not to forget the wily and experienced Ravi Bopara, they have players who can turn games on their head on any given day. Then they have Shahid Afridi too who will command respect from the opposition as well as huge crowds when he comes out to play. Whilst Mohammad Amir will be looking to repeat some of his heroics from the Champions Trophy, a lot of interest will be centred around the likes of Usama Mir and Usman Khan Shinwari to see if they have what it takes to perform in high-pressure games.
Winners of the inaugural edition of the PSL in 2016 and led by a ‘man for all seasons’, Misbah-ul-Haq, Islamabad United appear to be set to make a confident yet understated bid for their second title. Armed with some seasoned performers in the shape of Andre Russell and JP Duminy and the precocious talent of Shadab Khan and Sahibzada Farhan with some fancy all-round talent of Faheem Ashraf, Islamabad will remain the front-runners for the title in a quiet sort of a way. Their 2017 PSL was spoiled by the corruption scandal that took away their golden goose in the shape of Sharjeel Khan, but they will look to put all that behind with Waqar Younis as their Director Cricket and Bowling Coach who should instil new belief in the team.
Sarfaraz Ahmed recently lifted a trophy in New Zealand after his team’s horrid showing in the ODI series. He will be looking to apply the same magic to Quetta Gladiators to inspire them to their first PSL title after coming close to doing so in last edition. In Jofra Archer, Quetta have a player who could become the big success story of the tournament, but Kevin Pietersen for his part will be looking to end his career with a place in the history books too, although whether he will be able to help his team win to a possible win in the final in Karachi is remote. Saud Shakeel and Hasan Khan are the young guns whom not only Quetta but the rest of Pakistan will also be keeping an eye on but the experience of Shane Watson and Asad Shafiq will be crucial for Quetta to become champions at last.
The ‘new kid on the block’ is the sixth franchise in PSL belonging to the city of Sufis, known as Multan Sultans. Apart from the name, there is nothing new or untested about the players that are part of the Sultans. Shoaib Malik is their newly-appointed captain and he is expected to channel all his years of international experience to taking the Multan side to what would really be a shock win in their debut season. Malik will be ably assisted by the supreme skills of Kumar Sangakkara but Shan Masood who is currently the talk of the town due to his performances in the recently concluded Regional One-Day Cup and the hard-hitting power of Kieron Pollard will form the backbone of the Multan line-up. A rejuvenated and injury-free Junaid Khan accompanied by the perennial T20 specialist Sohail Tanvir will provide the bowling firepower that Multan will need to unseat some of the better teams in the tournament. Of course, Imran Tahir could well become the darling of the crowds but then he will need to take some important wickets for his side to move them up the points table when the action begins on 22 February in Dubai.
All in all, a feast of runs, and if the last PSL is any guide, a plethora of wickets awaits the fans of Pakistan’s top T20 tournament. There will be heartbreak for a few teams along the way but for fans of Pakistan cricket, the images of a victorious side celebrating their win in the home final in the City of Lights, Karachi, will be the ultimate prize and one worth waiting for. However the bigger prize for the PCB and one they are eyeing is to see that the PSL creates the path for the return of international cricket to Pakistan.