By Umer Tariq
We take a look at players and teams that could star in the 2017 edition of Pakistan Super League (PSL)
PSL 2.0 – Starts today
The wait is finally over as the second edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) gets underway in Dubai today. PSL’s first edition despite being shrouded by uncertainty proved to be massive success. The inaugural season of the PSL was held in United Arab Emirates – just like this year’s tournament but despite being away from home the tournament recorded unprecedented television ratings back in Pakistan. This year’s final has been scheduled to be held at Lahore’s Qaddafi’s Stadium and promises to be an historic event – the fans in Pakistan have been deprived of quality cricket action barring few exceptions since 2009 and a final of a tournament of this magnitude could well prove to be a change in tide for cricket in Pakistan.
Islamabad United, under the leadership of Misbah-ul-Haq were crowned champions of the inaugural Pakistan Super League – against all odds. The Islamabad side boosted few star studded names as compared to other sides but hit their peak form at the right time and ended up lifting the trophy. Like in 2016, the Islamabad side is still being regarded as underdogs – as the sides once more has less ‘star players’ among its ranks.
The lesser said about Qalandar’s forgettable inaugural tournament the better. The Lahore side finished bottom of the table during the PSL 2016 and would be looking to make up for their error prone last year’s campaign. The Qalandar’s have taken removed Azhar Ali from captaincy and handed it over to new entrant in the team, the brilliant Kiwi Brendon McCullum, the New Zealand legend is regarded not only as one of the best T20 International’s batsman but also an exceptionally good captain who can change the tide of the match with his brilliant decision making. The Qalandars skipper has an impressive T20I’s strike rate of over 135 with an equally good batting average, the Kiwi batsman has the ability to single handedly win matches with his blazing batting. The Qalandars also have the services of high talented but often disappointing Pakistani batsman Umar Akmal – who was the highest run getter in the inaugural tournament. Apart from that Qalandars have two excellent all rounders in their ranks in the shape of South African Cameron Delport and New Zealand’s Grant Elliott. In the bowling department the Qalandars have acquired the services of the Sunil Narine, the West Indian is without doubt one of the most effective spinners in this format of the game. Other players that could play a key role in Qalandars quest for glory include Sohail Tanvir and Jason Roy.
Qalandars to watch out for:
Brendon McCullum and Sunil Narine, the two have dominated this version of the game in batting and bowling respectively and are both proven match winners. If the duo click Qalandars will pose a real challenge to opposing teams. An outside favorite in this category is Umar Akmal, the batsman lacks discipline, is in poor form but has the ability to be devastating on his day – and with an impressive inaugural season with the bat it is hard to completely cast aside Umar Akmal.
On paper Karachi Kings boost the strongest squad. The Kumar Sangakkara lead side has the services of West Indian Chris Gayle, arguably the most devastating batsmen in the T20 circuit, England’s Ravi Bopara, who was one of the bright spots for Karachi Kings in their opening season, Sri Lanka’s exquisite Mahela Jayawardene, rising Pakistan star Babar Azam, T20 guru Shoaib Malik, West Indian Kieron Pollard and talented Pakistan duo Muhammad Amir and Imad Wasim. The Karachi side will be eager not to repeat the mistakes of last year’s campaign that saw them finish second from bottom in the group phase. There was talk of politics within the Karachi side last year with the then skipper Shoaib Malik being replaces by Ravi Bopara during the tournament. The Kings have a new captain this year, with veteran Sri Lankan Kumar Sangakkara given the duty to lead the Kings. Kings have a solid batting lineup with a combination of power hitters and batsmen who can build the innings, the side also has the services of Chris Gayle who had a disappointing first season with Lahore Qalandars but has the ability to single handedly win matches in the shorter format. As far as the bowling goes, the Kings will rely heavily on left arm pacer Muhammad Amir and left arm spinner Imad Wasim. Ravi Bopara’s all round ability will also be vital to Kings push, the England all rounder finished the first season as the second highest run getter and also claimed eleven wickets (jointly claiming the fifth spot for most wickets in the tournament).
Kings to watch out for:
With a strike rate of over 145 in T20 International’s West Indian Chris Gayle and with his impressive T20 International bowling stats, Imad Wasim are the two King’s players that could really make this tournament their own and help Karachi put last year’s miserable performance out of memory.
The Gladiators were the surprise package last year under the captaincy of Pakistan’s wicketkeeper batsman Sarfraz Ahmed and took on eventual winners Islamabad United in the inaugural seasons final. Quetta boosts an impressive squad, especially as far as the batting department goes. England’s Kevin Pietersen and Luke Wright, South African Rilee Rossouw and the Pakistani duo of Ahmed Shehzad and skipper Sarfraz Ahmed make up for an impressive looking batting lineup. With Muhammad Nawaz and Zulfiqar Babar in the spin department and pacers Umar Gul and Anwar Ali in the pace attack the Gladiators have a decent balance to their side. The team also has a number of all-rounders in its ranks including Sri Lankan Thisara Perera, Kiwi star Nathan McCullum and Pakistan all rounder Saad Naism.
Gladiators to watch out for:
Ahmed Shehzad, the ostracized opener from the national team has been in sparkling form in the domestic circuit and is eager to make an international come back. The opening batsman finished as the fourth highest run getter last year and will be eager to improve further on his performance. With a number of motivating factors and the ample ability Ahmed Shehzad will be the Gladiator to watch out for this year. In the bowling department last year’s revelation Muhammad Nawaz (now a member of Pakistan’s national side) will once again be a worry for opposition sides. The spinner ended up as the third highest wicket taker in the opening season and will be anxious to make it two successful seasons in a row.
On paper the Zalmi’s have the most balanced squad of all teams, the squad also boosts players with tremendous experience like former skipper Shahid Afridi, Muhammad Hafeez, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kamran Akmal, Eoin Morgan, Shakib Al Hasan and the newly appointed captain Darren Sammy. The Zalmi’s no doubt will once again be the favorites to clinch the trophy and under the leadership of West Indies T20I’s World Cup Winning Captain Darren Sammy will test all opposing sides. The side boats so many talented players that it is hard to pick a few every player you look at is a proven match winner. The added advantage Zalmi have is that they don’t rely heavily on one or two players, their entire squad is filled with quality players, if they click the Zalmi’s would be an unstoppable force but with the unpredictable nature of this format nothing can be said for certain.
Zalmi to watch out for:
Mohammad Asghar emerged as one of the best spinners in last year’s tournament and will be eager to perform once more – a good showing could also land him a place in the Pakistan national side. As said before the Zalmi’s side boasts an impressive array of talent but we have picked Muhammad Asghar, the teenager is a lesser known name in the galaxy of start but held his own last year, the same would be expected of him this year and if performs along with other starts the Zalmi’s would be tough to beat.
The reigning Champions – Islamabad United
The reigning Champions despite holding the trophy will once again enter the tournament as the underdogs – due to their own paper lack of strength. Another blow dealt to United this year is the loss of Andre Russell who was the leading wicket taker in the tournament last year with a number of impressive performances. The West Indies all rounder is currently serving a doping related sentence and won’t be part of United – he has been replaced by English pacer Steven Finn. Finn is an excellent addition but lacks the all round ability that Russell provided – Russell in addition to claiming the accolades for the top wicket taker was also impressive in the field pulling of a number of sensational catches that turned the tide of matches. During their title clinching inaugural season United hit the form at the right time, they’ll be expecting similar fortune this year. Untied are captained by the man who has a habit of delivering against all odds – Misbah-ul-Haq. His leadership’s skills will be key for United’s fortunes this year. United will look to Aussie duo Shane Watson and Brad Haddin to deliver with the bat alongside Darren Smith and Sam Billings.
United star to watch out for:
Sharjeel Khan – the left handed batsman has made a reputation in this format of the game and has been in impressive form. If he maintains his startling batting form and his ever improving ability, Sharjeel could potentially emerge as real star in this tournament. The Islamabad side will rely heavily on the Hyderabad born batsman to give them solid opening stands.
Judging by on paper strength, it is hard to bet against Peshawar Zalmi and Karachi Kings from booking a spot – in what would be a historic final at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium.