Pakistan cricketing calendar’s most awaited event, the Pakistan Super League’s (PSL) third edition got underway in Dubai on the 22 February. The glamour-filled opening ceremony received the usual quota of plaudits and thumbs-downs from its many critics, but the general consensus was that the tournament meant for entertaining the masses got the start it deserved.
What it did not need was the sort of coverage it received in the first few days of the 2017 edition where the headlines spoke of corruption allegations instead of the quality of play. Thankfully, so far due to the efforts of the PCB in enforcing strict security guidelines, the talk about PSL is only about some very good Twenty20 (T20) performances and nothing more.
The T20 format is meant to elicit the best out of cricketers in the shortest period of time, and if one is looking for that one moment of inspiration which puts the stamp of approval on any tournament, the incredible feat of athleticism and quick thinking by the 37-year-old Shahid Afridi during his side Karachi Kings’ victory against Quetta Gladiators is something that would have enthralled even the most seasoned cricket watchers.
Whilst many fielders of his approximate age would have been content with watching the ball sail over their heads for what appeared to be a six, Afridi stuck his hand out and caught the ball with one hand, threw the ball in the air as his momentum took him over the boundary and completed the catch inside the ropes to establish the moment of this tournament, duly celebrated with his trademark pose.
And when talking about ageless wonders, the name of one of Sri Lanka’s finest batsmen, Kumar Sangakkara, cannot be ignored as he continues to demonstrate his excellence at the PSL this year. Sangakkara is an inspiration for cricketers of all ages and his insatiable appetite to get runs for his new PSL side, Multan Sultans, is a prime reason for the newcomers to find themselves with two wins out of their first three matches. Having already beaten Lahore and Peshawar, Multan's experienced squad have already made their intentions known and alerted competitors that they are not outsiders as had been suggested by many followers of the PSL.
Pakistan Head Coach Mickey Arthur’s stated aim for success of the PSL is the discovery of at least two new names who will be part of the Pakistan squad as they look ahead to the ICC World Cup in 2019. So far, the names to impress all in that regard are that of Peshawar Zalmi’s Umaid Asif, who on his PSL debut, destroyed Islamabad United’s top-order with four wickets with an excellent display of fast bowling. In addition, the diminutive 19-year-old leg-spinner Ibtisam Sheikh has impressed with his guile and accuracy for Peshawar Zalmi.
The other Pakistan performers with the ball have been a few tried and tested names but there aren’t too many supporters of the game who will not be relieved at the return to form after injury of Junaid Khan. Now playing under the expert tutelage of Wasim Akram at the Multan Sultans, Junaid lit up the PSL with a magnificent hat-trick against Lahore Qalandars showing that he has much to give to the game despite some disappointments and injury problems.
Amongst the foreign contingent, Jofra Archer of Quetta Gladiators continues to impress with his pace and aggression. Archer is currently the darling of T20 franchises around the world and has already shown why he was so popular at recent auctions and drafts. Shane Watson and Imran Tahir have also shown their worth as overseas signings with some fine performances. Lahore-born Tahir has delighted the Dubai crowds with his enthusiastic wicket-taking celebrations and leads the way with seven wickets so far in the tournament.
Spinners may not be the most successful bowlers in a hit-and-giggle format such as T20, but Mohammad Nawaz with his excellent bowling of 2-4 from four overs to put an end to Lahore Qalandars' bid to win their first game as well as Ibtisam Sheikh with his Afridi like wicket-taking celebrations when he took three wickets for Zalmi against Islamabad United have both shown what raw talent can do in this format. The maturity Ibtisam has shown just in only his second T20 game would have alerted Mickey Arthur to another potential candidate for his list of future performers for Pakistan.
Shoaib Malik, captain of high-flying Multan Sultans, is leading the list of Pakistan batsmen who are doing well in PSL 2018 with Mohammad Hafeez, who is not allowed to bowl in the league, also not too far behind. However, among the youngsters, Faheem Ashraf with his outstanding innings for Islamabad United has been the other stand out Pakistani performer and if his previous performances for Pakistan are any guide, could well prove to be a handful for opposition sides in this tournament.
Another Pakistani batsman who has shown some promise is Lahore Qalandar's Sohail Akhtar who seems to have all the shots in the book as he has shown in the two games he has played so far. But, whether his team will survive long enough in this year's PSL for him to further demonstrate his capabilities is something only time will tell.
Sunday saw Islamabad United end Multan's unbeaten start in the PSL as Rumman Raees, Steven Finn and Mohammad Sami restricted the opposition to 113 all out. In Islamabad's innings, it was left to the highly-rated all-rounder Hussain Talat to see his team home with a classy unbeaten 48. The evening match saw Karachi Kings comfortably beat a lacklustre Peshawar Zalmi by five wickets. Mohammad Amir and Shahid Afridi with the ball with two wickets apiece and Karachi look a force to be reckoned with this season.
The tournament once again looks an open one with perhaps only Lahore Qalandars looking like a team who may struggle. The first few days of the PSL has been entertaining, but one thing that must concern organisers is the lack of crowds which will undoubtedly change when the tournament moves to Sharjah.