PSL 2023: Directionless Karachi Kings in need of overhaul after yet another embarrassing campaign

The groundwork for yet another miserable campaign was laid long before the tournament began, with Karachi putting the daft in draft.
Published March 4, 2023

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Karachi Kings, crowned PSL champions less than 30 months ago, are on the verge of becoming the first team to be eliminated from the competition for the second year running.

The groundwork for yet another miserable campaign was laid long before the tournament began, with Karachi putting the daft in draft, and it has just been built upon as Karachi have gone from embarrassment to embarrassment.

Who could have thought that bringing in Haider Ali and Shoaib Malik, two players stuttering at opposite ends of their careers, to replace THE Babar Azam would backfire?

Not satisfied with that bizarre act of self-sabotage, Karachi promptly ensured that their three platinum picks were Haider, Imran Tahir, and Mathew Wade. With all due respect to that trio, Kings fans can be justified in feeling slightly short-changed when comparing their premium picks to the likes of Shadab Khan, Alex Hales, Muhammad Rizwan, David Miller, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Rashid Khan, Babar Azam, Wanindu Hasaranga, James Neesham, and Naseem Shah.

No surprise then that Haider and Tahir found themselves out of the side as the tournament progressed while Wade has also struggled and has been shifted lower down the order.

Despite those strange picks, Karachi can argue that they were at least a little unlucky on multiple occasions, coming close to victory but falling just short. Their two wins have come in convincing fashion against Lahore and Multan, the two best sides so far. Cricket, after all, is a game of chance as much as it is a game of skill, and luck did not fall Karachi’s way when it mattered.

But Karachi Kings coming close enough to even lay a glove on their opponent was more down to sheer individual brilliance than any strategic plan.

Skipper Imad Wasim has appeared a man possessed, determined to show the country exactly what they have been missing out on for the last 18 months since he was inexplicably dropped.

Imad is one of the world’s most difficult spinners to hit for runs and is Pakistan’s most economical T20 bowler ever, despite often bowling in the powerplay. His T20I economy of 6.33 is the fourth best of all time among bowlers with 50 wickets — only Rashid betters Imad’s economy among active players — and is more than an entire run lower than his main rival Muhammad Nawaz’s economy.

He also happens to be by far the best finisher in the country with the bat — the national team’s biggest weakness — and has highlighted that during this PSL where he has finished not out in six of the eight matches so far.

Imad makes a compelling case to play in the side as a specialist batsman or bowler alone, let alone having both capabilities rolled into one.

He has not been Karachi’s only bright spark though and Muhammad Amir’s left wrist can still conjure up black magic the likes of which only Wasim Akram’s and Shaheen Shah Afridi’s ever could. If it wasn’t for all the baggage that comes with Amir, he would still be a shoo-in for the international side.

Meanwhile, Tabraiz Shamsi joining Imad made Karachi’s spin attack arguably the best in the tournament, even if Shamsi has featured in only three games.

But if Karachi shot themselves in the foot during the draft then they have taken a chainsaw to their other foot during the tournament. There were question marks around Haider even before he played a single game for Karachi, but his performances have made his pick appear even more tragicomic.

Haider has made 101 runs across five games, but his biggest contribution was his role in teammate James Vince’s run out against Multan Sultans when the Englishman looked to be single-handedly inspiring Karachi to a 197-run target.

Haider has not featured for the side since.

Elsewhere, Malik has struggled after scoring two half-centuries in the first three game, scoring a total of 46 in five matches.

Karachi had implied that they wanted to move on from Babar’s style of safe cricket and adopt a more modern approach, and yet their platinum batsmen Wade and Haider have both scored at a lower strike-rate than Babar has so far. Their averages are also lower than Babar’s of course, but that is not a stick to beat any batsman in the world with.

On the other hand, one of the country’s most promising aggressive batsmen in Qasim Akram was dropped after only the first game and struggles to get a look-in. This is despite Qasim impressing last year for the Kings, his strike-rate of nearly 155 was comfortably Karachi’s best while his average of 33 was second only to Babar’s.

PSL 2023 has been a refreshing change of pace as this year’s breakout young stars have been overwhelmingly batsmen. The likes of Abdullah Shafique, Saim Ayub, Mirza Baig, and even Karachi’s Irfan Khan have all impressed with the bat, with Azam Khan and Muhammad Harris further showcasing their prowess.

To see Qasim so bizarrely overlooked despite his performances last year is a shame and potentially hinders the 20-year-old’s development, not to mention the damage it has done to Karachi’s chances.

The Kings’ bowling attack was similarly unbalanced, with the likes of Akif Javed, Andrew Tye, and Aamer Yamin struggling as the support cast with the ball. This meant that early pressure applied by the likes of Imad and Amir often went to waste, with teams well aware that if they just hang in there, they can target the bowling attack’s soft underbelly.

Twice they have had the opposition under their thumb only to let them slip through and post unassailable targets, losing from 2-3 against Peshawar Zalmi and from 23-4 against Quetta Gladiators — their two main rivals for that fourth spot.

The experienced Mir Hamza, meanwhile, has only played one match in which he bowled two overs for figures of 1-13. It is a small sample size but his economy of 6.5 is dwarfed by those of Yamin (9.59), Javed (10.16), and Tye (10.66), all of whom have featured much more regularly.

Karachi have gone from a title-winning side that boasted the likes of Rizwan, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Babar Azam, Alex Hales, Sherfane Rutherford, and Muhammad Amir to a clueless mess of a squad in need of a complete overhaul in less than 30 months. That in itself takes some incredible acts of self-sabotage and the side need to ask some harsh questions of themselves because the current rot will not stop until much better decisions start being made.

For now, all that remains for Karachi is to ensure that they do not suffer the ignominy of finishing bottom of the table for the second year running. Their fans deserve better.

The author is a freelance journalist