Pakistan Super League (PSL) isn’t somewhere where only balls get bowled, sixes get hit and catches get taken (or dropped); it is also a launching pad, a stepping stone and a platform where fame and recognition can be earned overnight — literally.
Every year, a select few use the Twenty20 carnival to become household names across Pakistan. Sharjeel Khan did it (before he undid it). Shadab Khan and Shaheen Shah also did it, and this year a new bunch will be vying to do the same.
Here are the five nobodies who have the best shot at emerging from the PSL doldrums to the limelight this year:
This 20-year-old left-arm spinner was one of the few bright sparks for the Karachi Kings in PSL 2019, an otherwise tepid campaign once again. The fact that he took 10 wickets in eight matches and was the port city side’s best bowler in the campaign shows that he isn’t a total newbie.
Umer, however, wasn’t able to capitalise on his PSL 2019 success and had a pretty ordinary rest of the year. He now needs another impressive PSL campaign to emerge as an option to rival franchise captain Imad Wasim in the national fold.
He has enough variety, including an underrated doosra, and bowls from much wider of the crease unlike Imad, who stays closer to the wicket. Hence, where Imad contains, Umer strikes, which will be his standard operating procedure (SOP) if he is to make it to the top.
It’s tough for an uncapped soon to be 34-year-old to view PSL as a springboard to get somewhere but such is the nature of the game today — one big tournament could elevate Sohail Akhtar in Pakistan's discussion.
As the captain of the Lahore Qalandars, he will get plenty of opportunities to impress, and if he does even a little better than former Qalandar skippers, his stock would rise dramatically and get his batting noticed. He is a strong hard-hitting batter up top — the kind that Pakistan’s national team needs. If he plays his cards right, his career twilight could also become his career highlight.
In a best case scenario, Dale Steyn may only miss the start of PSL 2020, and in the worst, he might not show up at all — that’s the latest from the rumour mill. Add to it the fact that Mohammad Sami has vanished from the scene, means that the young Muhammad Musa Khan may have a substantial role to play for the Islamabad United this season.
There are certain traits in each sport that can’t be taught or learned. In basketball, the golden maxim is ‘you can’t teach height’. In cricket, the same goes for speed. You either have it or you don’t. If you have it, you can go places. Musa has pace in abundance. Of course, he’s wayward but his basic gift entitles him to prominence in franchise cricket.
What Big Bash League 2020 was for Haris Rauf, PSL 2020 could be for Musa.
Not everyone who makes it big in life does so on the basis of sheer ability. There are opportunists and lurkers as well as those who are there at the right time and can benefit despite limited gifts.
Khushdil Shah could be that opportunist this year. The jury is still out on if he is a player custom-built for the T20 format but in this Multan side, he should see plenty of game time and should translate those opportunities into a decent body of work.
At the very least, the lefty can be 6 out of 10, but if he really has his way, then he could be Sultans’ highest scorer.
This 29-year-old, who can pass off for a 35-year-old, is already on the fringes of Pakistan’s limited-overs squad but is not a regular fixture.
Why do we see promise in him? He bats late, does not throw away his wickets and has a big shot in him. He is, perhaps, a less explosive, more reliable version of Asif Ali.
More evidence of an impending explosion is in Iftikhar’s stats for Pakistan. Over eight T20Is, his average is 55.33 at a strike rate of 141.88. Those are impressive numbers even if the sample size is small.
But Karachi Kings have some very powerful options up top, including Babar Azam, who should consume most of the overs. Iftikhar could, however, lap up everything that the stars leave for him.
Expect him to emerge as one of the better finishers in the country by March 22.
The writer is a cricket aficionado based in Karachi. He sells cars by day and writes sports by night. The views expressed by this writer do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.