It seems only yesterday when Karachi Kings were finally crowned the HBL Pakistan Super League champions for the first time in the fifth edition of the tournament. Barely three months later, they are now back to script a new chapter since no franchise has ever been successful in defending the title.
Obviously, the gigantic task forthcoming in this highly competitive T20 league for all six competing teams will be something to keep all — no matter how young or old they may be — spellbound. The fan-base factor will indeed play a massive role throughout the month-long tournament that is being held only in Karachi and Lahore — the two biggest nurseries of cricket in the country. Owing to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, only 20 percent of spectators will be granted entry as per capacity at both venues, under strict safety measures such as wearing facemasks, regular use of sanitizers and maintaining social distancing.
Even before the first ball has been delivered in the opening clash between Karachi Kings and Quetta Gladiators, on February 20, the major talking point in recent weeks is the official anthem ‘Groove Mera’ for the 2021 edition, from performing artistes Naseebo Lal, Aima Baig and Young Stunners. The song has drawn mixed reactions, particularly on social media. Stunning as it may sound, “Groove Mera” has already set the ball rolling in different directions.
Life in the bubble ...
Unlike in the past, cricket, like all other major sports, has endured a stark turnaround during the months of the pandemic and the challenges of living in the bio-secure bubble creating an uneasy environment altogether. Life isn’t the same anymore, for sure. The endless virtual media conferences during the Covid-19 era are a norm nowadays, while the players, and the people close to them, have distanced further and further to the extent of being nonexistence for the spectators.
The thrills and spills generated by T20 cricket are the ingredients of luring the fans in big numbers as compared to the other two formats. The flurry of sixes and fours being clattered to all parts of the playing arena and the regular procession of wickets tumbling provide real value for the money spent at the turnstiles.
The nonstop action often leads to sheer excitement, and if any match culminates without yielding a conclusive result, the introduction of Super-Over play to determine the eventual winners leads to heart-breaking moments amid such dramatic finish.
The stakes are invariably very high in the franchise-based leagues across the cricketing world because the team owners pin hopes on the stars they buy — during the player draft — to attain glory at all costs, since they invest colossal sums of money every season in their endeavour to fill up the coffers through income earned from correlated sources.
The significance of staging the tournament this time is that 2021 itself is a Cricket World Cup year and the PSL platform is one of the gateways for that global event in India. With spots up for grabs, the intense battles between the players would be fierce as it can be.
The attractions for the diehard fans are the participants and PSL 6 promises to be evenly contested, with each side looking more formidable than before. Therefore, it is difficult to pinpoint who’ll lift the trophy on March 22 in Lahore.
Stars in the making ...
The most fascinating aspect of each PSL edition is the emergence of future stars. Among the current lot to become prominent in the preceding seasons were Fakhar Zaman, Hasan Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf. They have been followed by fast bowler Mohammad Hasnain and the Attock-born batsman Haider Ali.
One name that could be playing international cricket sooner than later is all-rounder Qasim Akram, who has been picked by Karachi Kings. This kid has come through the system after starting off at the under-19 level. Still just past his 18th birthday, Qasim played across all three formats during the 2020-21 domestic season for Central Punjab. And despite averaging only 14.40 from 10 T20 matches, Qasim is a gifted all-round cricketer who also bowls off-spin.
In contrast to Qasim’s impressive credentials, Saim Ayub is a left-handed batsman and occasional seam bowler. Another product of the under-19 phase, Saim joins the 2019 champions Quetta Gladiators after a handful of second XI appearances last December.
Peshawar Zalmi — the trophy winners in 2017 — have selected a paceman out of obscurity in the shape of Mohammad Imran. The left-armer, who turned 20 in January, still remains uncapped at the first-class and Twenty20 levels.
Mohammad Wasim is Islamabad United’s latest signing after a spate of fine efforts in first-class and List A cricket. The 19-year-old right-armer from North Waziristan has the potential of developing into a genuine fast bowler.
The established ones …
Islamabad United, with Shadab Khan leading them, are seeking to become the only side to claim their third title, the champions of inaugural season in 2016 and winners for a second time in 2018. Their success formula is based around cohesion within the ranks and reliance of experienced players. The absence of Colin Munro is cancelled out by the inclusion of Paul Stirling, who is the first Irish to figure in the PSL. Alex Hales, in the meantime, is reuniting with the United bandwagon after two stints with them in 2018 and 2019.
Chris Gayle had participated in almost every T20 league, but had harrowing experience during two seasons of PSL. But now the big man will be back to rectify those early failures while representing Lahore Qalandars (2016) and Karachi Kings (2017). He would be turning out for the 2019 champions Quetta Gladiators.
Mohammad Amir cut short his Pakistan career after abruptly announcing his retirement from international recently after being overlooked for selection. The disgruntled seamer’s form for Karachi Kings would decide what is next for him.
Mohammad Rizwan is currently the toast of the country after his heroics with the bat fetched him the Man of the Series title twice against South Africa. Now in the best form of his life, Rizwan could be the driving force to inspire Multan Sultans as the new captain to their first title in four years of trying.
While Sarfaraz Ahmed is set to skipper Quetta Gladiators for the sixth year on the trot, Imad Wasim (Karachi Kings), Wahab Riaz (Peshawar Zalmi) and Sohail Akhtar (Lahore Qalandars) will also be jostling for the honours as captains of their respective franchises.
Among the top overseas signings in the HBL PSL 6 is Afghanistan’s young star Rashid Khan. The No. One T20 bowler in the ICC rankings could be the reason as to why Lahore Qalandars can go all the way and clinch the coveted trophy in front of their diehard supporters at the Gaddafi Stadium. Rashid’s compatriots and fellow spinners Mujeeb Ur Rehman (Peshawar Zalmi) and Qais Ahmad (Quetta Gladiators), along with former Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi (Karachi Kings) will also be in action during the coming weeks of almost nonstop entertainment.
Published in Dawn, Young World, February 20th, 2021