The Multan Sultans, a franchise representing Pakistan's fifth-largest city, will make its debut in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2018.
Their addition will make the PSL’s third edition lengthier as the four-week-long tournament will now host 34 matches — 10 more than the second edition.
The expansion of the PSL, after just two seasons, signifies the popularity the T20 league enjoys in the country.
The Sultans’ sale price is also telling of this fact. The league's first expansion franchise was acquired by the Dubai-based firm Schon Group at a price of $5.2m per year — exactly the double of what was paid for the previous most expensive team: the Karachi Kings.
Their roster was completed in two phases. Its core unit — their captain Shoaib Malik, Kieron Pollard, Kumar Sangakkara, and Sohail Tanvir — came together in October, 2017 when the franchise announced their nine picks from the players released by the other five franchises. The remaining line-up was finalised during the player draft in November.
The franchise roped in Wasim Akram, credited for playing an instrumental role in Islamabad United’s title triumph in the inaugural edition, as Director of Cricket Operations.
Tom Moody, the seasoned Australian coach under whose tutelage Sri Lanka reached the final of the 2007 World Cup and the Sunrisers Hyderabad won the 2016 edition of the Indian Premier League, was appointed as head coach.
Sultans’ squad is built around specialist T20 all-rounders in the likes of Malik, Pollard, and Sohail Tanvir, who is the only bowling all-rounder in the list. But their batting is their strongest suit.
With players like Ahmed Shehzad, Darren Bravo, Kumar Sangakkara assisted by pinch-hitters Pollard, Malik, Sohaib Maqsood and globetrotter Tanvir, the Sultans have all the right ingredients to post big scores.
The presence of Pollard and Malik — the third- and the fifth-highest run scorers in the T20 format with 7,883 runs at a strike rate of 151 and 7,450 at 124 respectively — gives them much-desired depth in their batting unit.
It is the spinners who wreak havoc on the pitches in the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. However, the Sultans have invested heavily to take Pakistan’s left-arm pace attack on board with the signings of Sohail Tanvir, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan and Mohammad Abbas.
They have also picked Imran Tahir, who has accumulated 217 wickets at an average of 22, in the Platinum category, but they lack a decent spin partner to support the South Africa international. This could potentially allow opposition batsmen an opportunity to score freely in the middle-overs.
Moreover, the Sultans, a newly-knit unit, will require time to gel, which might allow the already established oppositions to bag crucial points against them early on.
Player to watch: Ahmed Shehzad
Many were taken aback when the Sultans picked Ahmed Shehzad in the last round of the Gold category. Once one of the most trusted openers in the Pakistan side, he was slated in the Platinum category, but no franchise opted for the Quetta Gladiators’ discard.
In the previous edition, the 26-year-old accumulated 242 runs in 10 matches at an average of just 27.
Wasim Akram admitted that eyebrows were raised when his side announced Ahmed Shehzad as their pick but promised to motivate the opener so that he applies himself 100 percent come PSL time.
Ahmed Shehzad seems to have listened to the advice as he scored 341 runs at an average of 49 in Lahore Blues’ successful National T20 Cup campaign, hitting two 50s and a hundred.
West Indian wicketkeeper Nicholar Pooran, who will be unavailable for the first three matches because of a 50-over tournament back home, will be covered for by Afghanistan spinner Zahir Khan.