The national selectors should be mighty pleased at the way the second edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) has panned out. The great benefit of franchise-based T20 leagues across the globe has been unearthing new gems of the game and the PSL has been no exception.
The first edition in 2016 threw up Hasan Ali, the right-arm paceman who is now gradually cementing a place in the Pakistan limited-overs side. Babar Azam is another young man to have emerged from the inaugural event — he is arguably the brightest batting prospect since Chief Selector Inzamam-ul-Haq came along all those years ago. The third guy to hit the straps a year ago was Mohammad Asghar. A left-arm spinner with huge palms, Asghar is yet to get a taste of international cricket but he could be very close. He was last sent to Australia as a reinforcement but didn’t get the elusive opportunity to represent Pakistan. He remains in the mix to make history as the first Test player from the largely-neglected province of Balochistan.
Anyway, this time round, the young ones have been on the mark once again in the PSL. All five franchises have been able to showcase at least one exceptionally good young talent but there are six young guns who have taken Pakistan by surprise.
Like PSL Season 1, PSL 2 has thrown up its own crop of ‘emerging players’ who have impressed and staked a claim for consideration in the national side
The most dazzling example of this is a pair of 18-year-olds, Shadab Khan and Hassaan Khan, who only a year ago were team-mates in the Pakistan youth squad that reached the last-four phase of the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh. Shadab and Hassaan are not related to each other but they ooze sheer confidence. One is a leg-spinner and the other a purveyor of left-arm spin. Both are good enough to develop into fine all-round cricketers who Pakistan can be proud of in the years to come.
In Usman Khan Shinwari and Usama Mir, Karachi Kings certainly boast of two young ones who have done well enough to merit space. The same holds true for Lahore Qalandars’ duo of Fakhar Zaman and the gangling Mohammad Irfan Jr — not to be confused with that giant of international cricket who plays for Islamabad United.
An honourable mention for Islamabad United’s 20-year-old batsman Hussain Talat. Although he wasn’t utilised from the start of the tournament, he sparkled on his debut against Quetta Gladiators by scoring a dazzling 56. That innings drew comparisons with Kumar Sangakkara from commentators Alan Wilkins and Ian Bishop. Talat has been playing since the age of 16. He made his first-class debut two months shy of his 17th birthday in October, 2013. This was after making his debut in one-day and T20 formats at the national level earlier that year. PSL Season 3 could well be his breakthrough season.
Here we profile the six super talents to come through this year.
Team: Islamabad United
Born in October, 1998, Shadab Khan has his roots in Mianwali, the city of Imran Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. Since returning from Bangladesh, he has made rapid progress under the watchful eye of Mohammad Masroor who was at the Under-19 World Cup as head coach, and Sabih Azhar, the man who has not only been mentoring Shadab but a number of other kids for years in his hometown of Rawalpindi.
The likes of Ian Bishop, Danny Morrison, Alan Wilkins and Mel Jones — who have been commentating in the PSL alongside our own Ramiz Raja and Bazid Khan — have expressed admiration for the young gun from Islamabad United. They have all tipped him to make the West Indies tour, which Pakistan will be undertaking next month. Their collective neutral prediction has left no doubt about the sort of future that lies ahead of Shadab, if he continues to remain humble and hard-working.
The most pleasing feature of Shadab’s cricketing acumen is his uncanny ability to flummox batsmen with subtle change of pace and the variations that he possess in abundance. His ball-control is extraordinarily accurate for a leggie so young and the googly he owns has left everyone amazed — ask Karachi Kings’ Babar Azam, who in the last league-round fixture, completely misread the one that cut him in half and zipped through to hit the stumps!
Many people are unaware that Shadab proudly owns a century at the first-class level in a career that began in the current domestic season and is only four-match old. His best T20 performances have come in the PSL — a 23-ball 42 against Lahore Qalandars in Sharjah and 3-13 versus Karachi Kings in Dubai last Sunday — and both came in losing causes. Add to that the kid’s electrifying fielding in the deep, where he scooped a couple of real blinders, making him an all-round delight for his captain.
Team: Quetta Gladiators
If Shadab is being touted as ‘the find of the 2017 PSL’ then Hassaan Khan has emerged as another wonderkid on the horizon. Only 14 days older than Shadab, Hassaan gives the impression of being a reserved individual. The lad from Karachi came into the PSL limelight on the back of few List A (one-day) games, six of them in all, with no proven performance to support his credentials as such. But the Quetta Gladiators think-tank of owner Nadeem Omar and the eagle-eyed captain Sarfraz Ahmed saw in him potential that nobody had.
An O-Level student, Hassaan hails from a family which insists that education comes before cricket and not vice-versa, as is generally the case in almost every other cricketing fairytale we hear of. Nasrullah Khan loves cricket as much as any other father would but he made it clear to the youngest of his three sons that the shelf life of any sportsman lasts a certain period. But probably in hindsight, he didn’t realise that Hassaan is no ordinary cricketer.
Like a duckling taking to the water, Hassaan had a debut in Dubai which he’ll never forget when Quetta had to defend a small total of 136 against Lahore. Starting with an 11-ball 16 while batting at number 8, and when he was thrown the ball at the beginning of the eighth over, Hassaan struck with the very first ball, trapping Mohammad Rizwan. That was not the end of a startling introduction on the big stage as Hassaan held a juggling return catch as Quetta completed a stunning turnaround. Unsurprisingly, figures of 2-16 and that crucial knock were enough for the jury to declare Hassaan as the man-of-the-match.
Hassaan (7) may have picked one wicket less than Shadab (8) before the playoffs got under way with both featuring in all eight fixtures for their respective franchises, but an economy rate of 6.15 has catapulted him to fourth in the list of those bowlers who have delivered at least 20 overs in the PSL.
The most pleasing feature of Shadab’s cricketing acumen is his uncanny ability to flummox batsmen with subtle change of pace and the variations that he possess in abundance. His ball-control is extraordinarily accurate for a leggie so young and the googly he owns has left everyone amazed
And again like Shadab, Hassaan too is a panther in the field. One piece of sheer athleticism will, somehow, never go away and would have made fielding legend Jonty Rhodes very proud of the effort put in by the kid. During the high-scoring clash against Lahore where Quetta chased down 201 to win, Hassaan produced the magical moment of the game when he sprinted on the fence to stop a certain six sailing over the line but also saved four vital runs.
Team: Karachi Kings
Usama Mir played a handful of games in the first season of the PSL, but this time, the 21-year-old Sialkoti leg-spinner has proven to be a vital cog in the resurgence of the Karachi Kings. A big-turner of the ball and armed with a devilish googly, he has collected nine scalps at the end of the first phase of the PSL.
Compared to the already-established Pakistan star Yasir Shah, Usama reminds us more of Anil Kumble since he is as tall as the former Indian leg-spinner. But Mir also has a tendency of losing his mojo if the batsmen start going after him and there are a couple of instances in this PSL to boost that claim.
Team: Karachi Kings
Usman Shinwari can be classified as a fine prospect for the future. As a 19-year-old, the left-arm speedster from Khyber Agency was plucked out of nowhere to play Twenty20 Internationals against Sri Lanka in Dubai back in December, 2013 but was promptly banished out of sight after conceding 61 runs from 30 balls in those fixtures.
In the PSL, Usman has shown what raw pace can achieve with six victims from as many appearances. Mickey Arthur, the Karachi head-coach and of the national outfit too, has already been taking a keen interest in this young gun in his quest for out-and-out speedsters to add greater bite and penetration to the Pakistan bowling attack.
Team: Lahore Qalandars
With a 27th birthday looming, Fakhar Zaman is not exactly the ‘boy-next-door’ type of cricketer. But the left-hander, who like the legendary Younis Khan was born in Mardan, is amongst the few new PSL players to make an impact. He was the leading run-getter in Lahore’s aborted campaign, over and above the likes of Brendon McCullum and Umar Akmal. Figuring in all eight league matches, Fakhar accumulated 177 runs with a decent strike-rate of 138.22. With Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif out of reckoning, a trip to the Caribbean in national colours might well be round the corner.
Mohammad Irfan Jr
Team: Lahore Qalandars
Last season, domestic cricket had at least eight cricketers by the name of ‘Mohammad Irfan’ plying their trade, leading to unending confusions and chaos when it came to identity which Irfan had actually made the headline. But the Irfan under discussion here is someone with some promise.
A right-handed version of Sohail Tanvir, the left-arm paceman with a pronounced wrong-footed landing at the crease, the beanpole description aptly sums up the Irfan from Nankana Sahib of all places. The 21-year-old, who took seven wickets from seven PSL fixtures, was first spotted by ex-Pakistan paceman Aaqib Javed during the ambitious talent-hunt drive that Lahore Qalandars initiated last year, although he has bagged 52 wickets in 13 first-class appearances.
His awkward delivery stride also reminds us of Colin Croft, one of the meanest West Indies fast bowlers in the 1980s, with an open-chested action. Irfan’s rise also gives Pakistan something to cheer about, if nothing else!
The writer is a member of staff
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 5th, 2017