CRICKET: THE FLOWER OF MULTAN SULTANS

Published July 11, 2021
The triumphant Multan Sultans
The triumphant Multan Sultans

Multan is known as the city of saints and, on June 24, 2021, the Multan Sultans — the youngest franchise of the HBL-Pakistan Super League — became worthy winners of the PSL6 tournament. Their captain, Mohammed Rizwan, himself a saint at heart, lifted the trophy at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

In modern cricket, it’s not just the 11 players of a team who fight their opponent inside the boundary rope. There is also a battery of team officials, headed by the team coach, working tirelessly behind the scenes to facilitate the players in the middle to reach for glory.     

The head coach of Multan Sultans, Andy Flower, has been gathering accolades for his role in Multan Sultans’ triumph and his unique coaching techniques. Placards with secret codes on them were placed just outside the boundary rope, which were perhaps as difficult to decode for commentators and spectators as Da Vinci’s code. But, importantly, it worked well for Multan Sultans. Ever the delegator of credit, however, Flower reckons that it was due to his captain Rizwan and his team that they made a remarkable comeback and won the tournament.

“Well, I’m very proud of our boys, they’ve performed sensationally, actually,” says Flower speaking in Abu Dhabi after the final. “I think the best thing about winning this trophy is that we came back from nowhere. We lost four games out of five in Karachi and most people had written us off. Importantly, I don’t think anyone in the dressing room had written ourselves off, so to come back from that and inch our way back up at the table to get into the top two positions was obviously very important for your chance to go through to the final. We did that straight away and then the boys, under pressure, performed really well,” Flower says.

In the final, Peshawar Zalmi elected to bowl first after winning the toss. Flower dismisses the common perception that it was a wrong decision, pointing out that it wasn’t a walk in the park for the batsmen. “That ball swung, moved around, bounced a bit in our innings, so you can see why Zalmi put us in. And then even with [Zalmi’s] Shoaib Malik and Sherfane Rutherford making a burst towards the last third of their innings, the guys were under pressure, but they dealt with it brilliantly.

Andy Flower, coach of the triumphant Multan Sultans, talks about his experiences of the HBL-PSL 6 tournament

“I think Zalmi are really well led, they’ve got a rich history of getting in the play-offs and getting into finals, led by two great guys — Mohammed Akram and Darren Sammy. I obviously feel for them, but they were out here with a smile on their faces at the end of the game, and they’ve done a great job with their team.”

Andy Flower
Andy Flower

The team management of Multan Sultans came in for a fair bit of criticism for removing Shan Masood from the captaincy before the sixth edition of the tournament and the team’s poor performance in the Karachi leg proved the critics right. Not to mention that, at first, Shan wasn’t even selected in the playing eleven. But coach Andy Flower had the guts to admit and rectify the mistake. Flower has immense admiration for Mohammed Rizwan and is all praise for Shan Masood for playing their roles in the turnaround and emphatic victory.

“I’m really proud of Rizwan as the captain and also Shan Masood, who reacted like a true champion in the way he carried himself after losing the captaincy at the end of the last PSL. So I’m very proud of everyone involved. I’m also very happy for our owner Alamgir Tareen, who also showed us real support throughout, as I’m sure all the PSL franchises owners have.”

Before the start of the second leg of the tournament in the UAE, Multan Sultans were languishing at the bottom — second last — of the points table, and in Abu Dhabi, it was a do-or-die situation for them.

“We did talk about the fact that we had very little to lose by playing aggressive cricket, but I would say that our team make-up is such that we don’t have any all-rounders other than Sohail Tanveer at number seven. He had played a couple of really good innings, but our batsmen had to do the job,” says Flower.

“There was no one backing them up in the lower order, and they did it manfully. Rizwan was sensational with the bat in Karachi and Sohaib Maqsood, when he got his spot at three, was brilliant.”

In the morning, just a few hours before the PSL 6 final, Sohaib Maqsood heard the good news about his inclusion in the Pakistan team as a replacement for Haider Ali (who had breached the bio-secure bubble) and, in the evening, he celebrated it with some style with a fine knock of 65 runs (not out) off 35 balls. Flower is hopeful that Maqsood can carry his good form with the bat into the Pakistan team.

“He [Maqsood] forced his way back in the national squad, which is a great effort on his part. I’m very happy for him, he was sensational, and he came through under pressure on most occasions. I hope he goes on to the international game and does something similar,” he says.

The pandemic has impacted every segment of life, and cricket is no exception. In early March, the PSL 6 was postponed because of the number of positive Covid-19 cases in the league. Flower acknowledges the challenging situation across the globe and the Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) role in not only staging the PSL 6 in these difficult times, but also making it one of the top franchise leagues in the world.  

“There are serious challenges happening all over the world, and people are getting sick, losing loved ones, having incomes drastically cut, and going through all sorts of hardships around the world,” he points out. “Around the cricket community in Pakistan, everyone feels very fortunate to be gainfully employed and to be able to lift spirits through entertainment. All the PSL sides have done that brilliantly, not only in Karachi but especially here [in Abu Dhabi]. This surface has provided a really fair challenge for everyone, batters and bowlers, and we’ve seen some sensational cricket.

“I hope that Pakistan cricket grows through everyone’s exposure in the PSL and I would congratulate the PCB for rearranging this on such short notice, putting on such a great show, and allowing some of these players to fulfill their dreams, which is wonderful. On a personal basis for them, the PCB should look on this with great pride,” he says.

As a Zimbabwe player and England coach, Flower has many feathers in his cap. In May 2007, Flower was appointed assistant coach of the England cricket team and, in less than two years, in April 2009, he was appointed the team director. This appointment proved valuable for the English team, as they won the home Ashes series that summer, the ICC World T20 in the West Indies, and Ashes in Australia in the season of 2010-11. 

About winning the PSL 6 trophy, Flower says: “It is right up there. I was talking to Imran Tahir, and he was saying how much he’s enjoyed this tournament, how proud he is of winning this cup, how much he’s enjoyed our dressing room and I would echo all of that. It’s just been a brilliant experience.”

The writer tweets @CaughtAtPoint

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 11th, 2021

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