Despite being arguably the best team in all of Pakistan Super League (PSL), the Quetta Gladiators have so far failed to lift the trophy, losing in the finals each time in the last two years.
Their disappointments of the previous years mean the Sarfraz Ahmed-led Gladiators must be more determined than ever to go for the kill.
With a balanced side that has several explosive batsmen such as Kevin Pietersen, Shane Watson, Jason Roy and Rilee Rossouw in their ranks, the Gladiators have every reason to believe that they will be third-time lucky.
The presence of the West Indian great Sir Vivian Richards as mentor will continue to add value to the team. Somebody as experienced as Sir Richards pushes the players to perform to the best of their abilities, something that has been visible in Sarfraz’s men throughout the PSL.
Strengths and weaknesses
A strong batting line-up is the Gladiators’ strength. Players like Pietersen, Watson, Roy and Rossouw possess the ability to turn the game around at any point, which is exactly what Sarfraz would expect of them.
If that wasn't enough, they have additional depth with batsmen Asad Shafiq, Sarfraz himself, Umar Amin, Mohammad Nawaz, and Anwar Ali.
But, as it is often said, it's the bowlers who win you games — and this is where the Gladiators are lacking. Not having a strong bowling attack puts their batting under a lot of pressure and, in case of a batting collapse, Sarfraz does not have many options to fall back on.
They will not have the services of one of their top performers Ahmed Shehzad, who has moved to the Multan Sultans.
Only time will tell if an over reliance on batsmen would prove to be a problem. Sarfraz has proven himself to be a smart captain and a quick learner and all eyes will be on him as to how he plays his cards.
The West Indian hard-hitter Carlos Braithwaite will not be available this season as he will be helping his national side against associate nations to secure a berth at the 2019 World Cup.
His compatriot Jofra Archer will be at Sarfraz’s disposal for a short duration but he too has to leave for international duty.
In Archer’s absence, Australian bowler Ben Laughlin will step in.
Bangladesh’s Mahmudullah Riyad, England’s Jason Roy, and Afghan globetrotter Rashid Khan will also be partially available.
As their replacements, the Gladiators took on board Australian all-rounders Josh Hastings and Chris Green as well as South Africa’s Albie Morkel.
Player to watch: Kevin Pietersen
T20 superstar Pietersen has been phenomenal with the bat for the Gladiators in the previous two editions of the PSL.
He is a valuable asset for the franchise. For many youngsters, the 37-year-old England star has been a mentor — his many on-field interactions with Sarfraz show that he continues to play a leading role.
Pietersen has also been scoring runs for his side.
He was the second-highest run-getter for the Gladiators in the first season, scoring 215 runs at a strike rate of 130.30 in nine games.
The second time around, he grabbed the third spot, scoring 241 runs at a strike-rate of 151.57 in nine games.
In the absence of Shehzad, the Gladiators will be relying on the towering batsman even more.
Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Kevin Pietersen, Rilee Rossouw, Mahmudullah Riyad (cover: John Hastings), Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Nawaz, Anwar Ali, Mir Hamza, Umar Amin, Shane Watson, Carlos Brathwaite (cover: Jofra Archer/Ben Laughlin), Rahat Ali, Rameez Raja jr., Saad Ali, Saud Shakeel, Hassan Khan, Jason Roy (cover: Albie Morkel), Rashid Khan (cover: Chris Green), Mohammad Azam Khan and Faraz Ahmed