Let the PSL begin!

Published February 17, 2024
Illustration by Ziauddin
Illustration by Ziauddin

The premier cricket tournament of Pakistan is back and this time, it is going to be bigger, better and more interesting than the previous editions. The ninth Pakistan Super League is all set to begin today, with a match featuring defending champions Lahore Qalandars and former champions Islamabad United. What’s interesting about the match-up is the fact that both the teams have managed to win the PSL trophy on more than one occasion, and would be hoping that this time they manage to make it to three victories.

Pakistan Super League 2024, also known as PSL 9, will be played between February 17th and March 18th in four major cities of Pakistan — Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi — where six teams featuring the best players from across the globe will battle it out for supremacy. Established by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in 2015, this franchise Twenty20 cricket league will first follow the double round-robin league format, followed by the playoffs, which will decide the two finalists who will clash in the grand finale on March 18th, in Karachi.

Karachi’s National Bank Cricket Arena will not just be the venue for the final, but also the playoffs and a total number of 11 matches will be played at the venue. Rawalpindi and Lahore will host nine matches each, whereas fans in Multan will also be able to watch their favourite players in action five times.

What makes this tournament crucial for Pakistan’s national cricket team is the fact that it will give the selectors a chance to check out the best players in the country for the T20 World Cup to be played later in the year. They will not only be able to select the best players for the mega event, but it will also give the players a chance to show their skills as a potential candidate for the tournament.

Six teams, six contenders!

Since 2016, cricket fans in the region have been treated to the best action through the PSL. Only two teams have been able to clinch the trophy twice — Islamabad United in 2016 and 2018, and Lahore Qalandars in 2022 and 2023 — whereas Peshawar Zalmi (2017), Quetta Gladiators (2019), Karachi Kings (2020) and Multan Sultans (2021) have managed to win it once.

Every team in this event will play a total number of 10 matches in the first round, whereas the top four will go to the playoffs, which will consist of one qualifier, two eliminators and a grand finale. The top two teams will clash in the qualifier match, and whichever emerges victorious will reach the final, whereas the loser of that match will take on the winner of the first eliminator, in the second eliminator.

The winner of the second eliminator — played between the third and fourth-ranked team at the points table — will qualify for the final, while the team that loses the first qualifier will go empty-handed. Since they won the last two editions, Lahore Qalandars seems to be the favourite of most people this year, however, other teams are also in the running and have an impressive pool of players to select their team from.

Each team can field a maximum of four players from countries other than Pakistan, which makes it all the more competitive for the youngsters in the squad, who get to share the field and the dressing room with the foreign players.

Let’s take a look at each team and assess their strengths and weaknesses ahead of what seems to be a busy month for cricket fanatics and discuss their prominent players, who might wreak havoc with the bat, the ball or both.

Lahore Qalandars —defending champions

Captain: Shaheen Afridi

Batters to look out for: Fakhar Zaman, Abdullah Shafique, Sahibzada Farhan and Bhanuka Rajapaksa

Bowlers to look out for: Zaman Khan, Haris Rauf and Mohammad Imran

Import to look out for: Rassie van der Dussen, David Wiese, Sikandar Raza and Shai Hope

Young players to look out for: Tayyab Tahir and Syed Faridoun

They have not let any other team win the trophy for the last two years, and under Shaheen Shah Afridi, they hope to make it three out of three this year. Lahore Qalandars’ fortunes changed when Shaheen Shah Afridi was made their captain; before his elevation to captaincy, the team ended the first four editions in the last position, reached the final in the fifth PSL, and ended in second last position in the sixth edition. Since then, they have won two finals and the credit for that goes to Shaheen Shah Afridi and his band of brothers.

The team not only has two openers who play for the national team — Fakhar Zaman and Abdullah Shafique — but can also boast of Haris Rauf and Zaman Khan in the bowling line-up, who have won many a match for them. With the incredible South African van der Dussen, and the impressive West Indian Shai Hope joining hands with the all-round skills of Sikandar Raza and David Wiese, from Zimbabwe and Namibia respectively, they have a top-class unit all set to continue their domination at the top.

Although Tayyab Tahir is no longer a youngster, he has not been given many chances to represent Pakistan. One hopes that he can fulfil his potential this year with Lahore Qalandars, who would want him to come out all guns blazing. The team will be playing without their ace spinner Rashid Khan, who is nursing an injury, but would be banking on the left-arm chinaman bowler Syed Faridoun, who has shown that he can bamboozle any batting line-up with his wizardry.

LAHORE: Captains of the HBL PSL franchises (L to R) Karachi Kings’ Shan Masood, Mohammad Rizwan of Multan Sultans, Peshawar Zalmi’s Babar Azam, Shadab Khan of Islamabad United, Quetta Gladiators’ Sarfraz Ahmed and Shaheen Shah Afridi of holders Lahore Qalandars pose with the trophy during its unveiling ceremony at the Polo Ground.—Online
LAHORE: Captains of the HBL PSL franchises (L to R) Karachi Kings’ Shan Masood, Mohammad Rizwan of Multan Sultans, Peshawar Zalmi’s Babar Azam, Shadab Khan of Islamabad United, Quetta Gladiators’ Sarfraz Ahmed and Shaheen Shah Afridi of holders Lahore Qalandars pose with the trophy during its unveiling ceremony at the Polo Ground.—Online

Multan Sultans —former champions (2021)

Captain: Mohammad Rizwan

Batters to look out: Reeza Hendricks, Dawid Malan, Usman Khan and Johnson Charles

Bowlers to look out for: Shahnawaz Dahani, Abbas Afridi, Usama Mir

Import to look out for: David Willey and Chris Jordan

Young player to look out for: Tayyab Tahir

Only two teams have managed to play three finals on the trot, and Multan Sultans is one of them. They may have come to the PSL party late (they debuted in 2018), but have been impressive since then. They might not have the services of their regular opener Shan Masood this year (he will be a part of Karachi Kings), but skipper Mohammad Rizwan is there alongside South African Reeza Hendricks, Englishman Dawid Malan and West Indian Johnson Charles.

The presence of PSL’s fastest century record holder Usman Khan will also add to the team’s batting arsenal, which also features Khushdil Shah and Iftikhar Ahmed. As for the bowling, back-from-injury Ihsanullah might not play all the matches, but in form Abbas Afridi and Shahnawaz Dahani might. Usama Mir’s presence in the squad will also give the skipper a lot of options, as would the option of using Englishmen Chris Jordan, Reece Topley and the recently retired David Willey, who have made a name for themselves in white ball cricket.

Karachi Kings —former champions (2020)

Captain: Shan Masood

Batters to look out for: James Vince, Jamie Overton and Shoaib Malik

Bowlers to look out for: Mir Hamza, Hasan Ali and Zahid Mahmood

Import to look out for: Kieron Pollard and Tabraiz Shamsi

Young players to look out: Saad Baig and Arafat Minhas

Since PSL’s inception, this is the first time that Karachi Kings are without Mohammad Amir, Babar Azam and Imad Wasim. On one hand, it might seem like a drawback when, in reality, it will give the franchise a chance to come up with a fresh mindset, one that could lead them to another trophy win. With Shan Masood at the helm, and the experienced Shoaib Malik by his side, there is a lot that KK could do this year, and hopefully for the better.

They have only qualified for the PSL final once, but with Kieron Pollard from the West Indies and Tabraiz Shamsi from South Africa in their ranks, they might have a chance this year to reach the grand finale. Mir Hamza and Hasan Ali will handle the pace attack, while Anwar Ali will lend support as an experienced all-rounder. Add to that the presence of New Zealand’s Tim Seifert behind the stumps and Mohammad Nawaz and Zahid Mahmood’s spin wizardry, and Karachi Kings might end up as kings, again.

Quetta Gladiators – former champions (2019)

Captain: Rilee Rossouw

Batters to look out for: Jason Roy, Saud Shakeel, Rilee Rossouw and Sherfane Rutherford

Bowlers to look out for: Mohammad Hasnain, Abrar Ahmed, Usman Qadir, Mohammad Amir, Sohail Khan and Akeal Hosein

Import to look out for: Wanindu Hasaranga

Young players to look out for: Will Smeed and Omair bin Yousuf

Quetta Gladiators could prove to be the underdogs this year, because they have made some interesting changes in their squad by including Mohammad Amir (from Karachi Kings), and retaining Saud Shakeel who has spent most of the time with them on the bench. If Amir could do his magic with the ball and Saud with the bat, the former champions might go on to win their second PSL title and join Islamabad United and Lahore Qalandars.

To support Mohammad Amir, Quetta will have the services of the experienced Sohail Khan, the accuracy of Mohammad Wasim and the express pacer Mohammad Hasnain, while Akeal Hosein from the West Indies will be there to spin a web with Abrar Ahmed and Usman Qadir. The presence of Sri Lankan all-rounder Wanindu Hasaranga for a few matches would be a bonus for the side, while the batting could benefit from the experience of England’s Jason Roy, South Africa’s Rilee Rossouw and the West Indian Sherfane Rutherford.

Islamabad United – former champions (2016 & 2018)

Captain: Shadab Khan

Batters to look out for: Alex Hales, Colin Munro, Azam Khan and Salman Ali Agha

Bowlers to look out for: Naseem Shah, Hunain Shah and Rumman Raees

Import to look out for: Imad Wasim

Young player to look out for: Ubaid Shah

They may have won two out of the first three PSL trophies, but Islamabad United haven’t reached the finals since their last hurrah in 2018. Under Shadab Khan, they would be hoping to break that jinx, and for that, they have selected not one, but three pacers who have Shah as their surname. Yes, Naseem Shah and his two extremely-quick brothers Ubaid Shah and Hunain Shah are part of Islamabad United this year and could prove to be deadly for the opposition.

That doesn’t mean the team’s batting resources aren’t satisfactory — they have Englishman Alex Hales and Kiwi batter Colin Munro in the squad, besides youngster Shamyl Hussain and Azam Khan, who have made a name for themselves in age-level cricket as well as T20 leagues. Salman Ali Agha’s experience would also come in handy for the team, as would Faheem Ashraf’s ability to both bat and bowl according to the plan.

One aspect that will help Shadab Khan’s side the most is the presence of Imad Wasim in the squad, who not only led Karachi Kings to their only PSL trophy in 2020, but is also one of the best new-ball spinners in the world. If he can do his bit both as a frontline bowler and as a late-order batter, folks in Islamabad might finally get to celebrate another PSL victory after six years.

Peshawar Zalmi — former champions (2017)

Captain: Babar Azam

Batters to look out for: Mohammad Haris, Saim Ayub, Rovman Powell, Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Haseebullah Khan

Bowlers to look out for: Aamir Jamal, Khurram Shahzad, Salman Irshad, Luke Wood and Arshad Iqbal

Import to look out for: Shamar Joseph and Dan Mousley

Young players to look out for: Sufiyan Muqeem and Mehran Mumtaz

Babar Azam may not be the captain of the Pakistan cricket team anymore, but he still holds the fort as Peshawar Zalmi’s skipper and would love to clinch the trophy for a change. Ever since losing to Multan Sultans in the grand finale three years back, Zalmis haven’t reached the title match, but have all the firepower needed to do it this year.

Not only have they gotten hold of West Indian all-rounder Shamar Joseph, who had a great Test series Down Under, they also have two wicketkeeper batters in their lineup who can pose a threat to Sarfraz Ahmed — Mohammad Rizwan’s dominance. These two — Mohammad Haris and Haseebullah Khan — have already made their debuts for Pakistan and will be using PSL as a platform to stake their claim for more international matches.

And then there is Saim Ayub, perhaps the most pleasing to the eye batter from the new generation. He might have to open the innings this year with Babar Azam, which would be a nightmare for the opposition. Add to that the presence of international players Rovman Powell and Tom Kohler-Cadmore and you have a team that cannot just win matches, but also destroy the opposition.

With Pakistan’s star from the Down Under series Aamir Jamal leading the pace attack for Zalmis, and pacers like Salman Irshad, Khurram Shehzad and Luke Wood lending their support, Zalmi fans can hope that their side will be able to break the jinx of not just reaching the final, but also winning it for the first time since 2017. After all, if young spin twins Sufyan Muqeem and Mehran Mumtaz can weave their magic, nothing can stop them from joining the teams with more than one PSL trophy on their shelves.

Published in Dawn, Young World, February 17th, 2024

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