In an in-depth review of the upcoming season 8 of the Pakistan Super League, @Rana discusses the strengths and weaknesses of all squads in what promises to be the spiciest edition of Pakistan's premier T20 tournament.
By @Rana (3 February, 2023)
Much like Senator Palpatine’s ascension as the ruler of the Galactic empire in ‘The revenge of the Sith’, the 8th edition of the much-anticipated PSL has only become more intriguing with the return of Najam Sethi (the founding father of the PSL) as the chairman of the PCB. Plenty has changed since the last time Sethi was in office, with the improvements to the international roster of players, HD quality broadcast throughout the globe and the increase of playing venues in Pakistan, Mr. Sethi finds that the foundations laid through his hard work have paid dividends with an improving product. Whilst PSL is ticking boxes in productivity and quality, one aspect that Mr. Sethi himself admits to not being an expert on is the cricket itself. With the 2023 Fifty over World Cup looming, and with the return of the PDM regime in political power, this year’s PSL will most certainly be the most played in ‘spiciest’ and ultra-competitive manner.
A door has been opened for the possible return of players who were sidelined due to their age or other factors by the previous regime to once again make a claim at the prestigious green shirt of Pakistan. In Sethi’s absence, rivalries have grown between players and so have the rivalries between franchises. Whilst the PSL tries to bill the rivalry between Lahore and Karachi as its ‘El Classico’ or mother of all rivalries, the truth is that this year’s rivalry between Peshawar Zalmi and Karachi Kings will be viewed with the true intensity and anger amongst fans and players befitting of what a sporting rivalry should truly be! With that being said, there are plenty of things to talk about for the fans, journalists, current and ex-players in regard to what should be and what shouldn’t be. The answer to all of those questions can only be the cricket that is played, and this time, if you can play hard, you will play for Pakistan once again!
The first most intriguing team of this year’s PSL is Javed Afridi’s men in yellow who will look to lift the trophy once again, this time under the leadership of the current captain of the Pakistan Men’s T20 side (Babar Azam). The attention that has been draw to Zalmi by Babar’s transfer and further appointment to leadership is a sign of great trust the franchise has in the ability of Babar to lead them to silverware (which has not been his specialty so far as a captain in this format). Babar will get his opportunity to silence severe critics of his captaincy on Day 2 of the tournament when Zalmi open’s their campaign against Karachi Kings. Rest assured, this will be a very romantic encounter from the coldest depths of the earth on the 14th of February. The fixture might hold bad blood, but there is plenty of young blood that is ready to step up for Zalmi, and other players to look out for in this year’s edition:
Saim Ayub has been the breakaway star from the Pakistan cup. The flambouyant, dashing young left handed opener is a breath of fresh air to watch batting in the Powerplay considering Pakistan national teams lack of urgency visible in the first 6 overs. A smart pick by Zalmi who will look to open him or pair him up with Muhammad Harris who captured the imagination of the world with his clutch performances against South Africa, Bangladesh and New Zealand in the recently concluded world cup. We hope that Zalmi allows the two, young and energetic batsmen open the innings and give us a glimpse of Pakistan’s potential opening combination.
Aamer Jamal will look to further enhance his reputation as a bowling all-rounder after impressing against England in the 7 T20i series, and Arshad Khan who has all the ingredients to become a top quality fast bowler will also have to do a lot of hard work in ensuring there is a fair balance between batting and bowling quality in the Zalmi squad.
Overseas players have always been important to any franchise’s campaign as they bring experience and the edge to the side in order to get them over the line. This year, Zalmi’s big overseas acquisition comes in the form of Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Jimmy Neesham. Pakistan are well aware of Bhanuka’s ability to shift gears and anchor if necessary, whilst Neeshan is a proven lower order six hitter and a decent medium pacer. It will be interesting to see if these key players can play the entire tournament or how they fit in to Babar’s plans.
Babar Azam, Sherfane Rutherford, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Haris, Aamir Jamal, Salman Irshad, Tom-Kohler Cadmore, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Rovman Powell, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Danish Aziz, Arshad Iqbal, Saim Ayub, Usman Qadir, Suifyan Muqeem, Haseeb Ullah, Jimmy Neesham, Khurram Shahzad, Haris Sohail
Richard Gleeson (partial replacement for Rovman Powell)
Last year’s runners up and the winners of the 6th edition have once again assembled a squad good enough to challenge for the title or qualify for the play offs at least. With the T20i captaincy position in question as well, MS leader Mohammad Rizwan will be looking to stake a claim of national leadership with potentially another successful campaign with the franchise. Questions however have been raised about Rizwan’s self-proclaimed role of anchoring the innings as a T20 opener, and the addition of David Miller into the squad will give the Sultans captain more comfort in knowing that the job can be recovered by the powerhouse line up of Russow, David, Miller and even Khushdil Shah who finds his best form for this team.
The Sultans, with the expertise of their coaching and analytical staff have made some smart acquisitions in the draft. Josh Little and Akeal Hossien are two excellent picks going around in world cricket with the amount of T20 exposure. Also, the opportunity to call upon Adil Rashid as a supplementary pick might help fill the void left by Imran Tahir who was a key bowler for them. With Russow and David as two likely picks out of the four overseas, it will be interesting to see how the Sultans will look to balance out their XI with the other two overseas players to pick from.
Besides the overseas pros, Multan has a couple of exciting local bowlers who are in the pipeline or have broken through into the national side. Usama Mir impressed in the ODI’s against New Zealand and was at times too good for Kane Williamson (one of the best batsmen in the world). Alongside Mir, the tall quick Ihsanullah will look to play the majority of the season and enhance his reputation as one of the best pace bowling prospects in the country.
Mohammad Rizwan, Khushdil Shah, Rilee Rossouw, Shan Masood, Shahnawaz Dahani, Tim David, Abbas Afridi, Ihsanullah, David Miller, Josh Little, Akeal Hosein, Usama Mir, Usman Khan, Sameen Gul, Anwar Ali, Mohammad Sarwar, Adil Rashid, Arafat Minhas, Kieron Pollard, Ammad Butt
Wayne Parnell (partial/full replacement for Adil Rashid), Izharulhaq Naveed (partial replacement for David Miller)
All eyes of Pakistan and the world will be on Karachi Kings this year. The one-time champions of PSL had an abysmal season last year under the national skipper Babar Azam. To their relief, Babar has moved on and the natural leader of the squad Imad Wasim is back, and he will be hungry to prove many of his doubters wrong. Imad is not alone in his fight; outcasts Mohammad Amir and Sharjeel Khan have now got the opportunity to also stake a claim into the national side as long as their performances are up to the mark. Besides the fact that the Kings boast of some highly experienced T20 specialists this year and better leadership, the Kings have assembled a squad that should provide them with a better opportunity for the play offs unlike their horror show of last year.
One of the big transfer stories of the pre-draft window was the trade of Haider Ali to Karachi in the Platinum category. The highly talented top order batsman knows that time and opportunities for him to impress are running out. This is a highly important stint for Haider in his resurgence for national favor and his own self-confidence. The acquisition of Imran Tahir is a is a clever move by the KK think tank, as they have picked one of the most experienced leg spinner/wicket-taker in T20 cricket. Tahir, alongside Imad and Amir make three of the best bowlers out of a required 5-man attack. Mir Hamza should also make the cut and he will be one to look out for, as he was very impressive for Kings last year after being called up when most of the bowling resources had become unavailable them.
The LQ captain Shaheen Afridi has challenged Mathew Wade to open the innings for KK after being embarrassed by the Aussie keeper/finisher in the haunting 2021 world cup semi-final clash. It will be interesting to see how KK want to use Wade, who is a fine stroke maker and an excellent player of pace bowling at the death. One would hope to see Muhammad Akhlaq being given a chance to open the innings with Sharjeel Khan. Akhlaq is an underrated keeper batsman who likes to take the game on by hitting big, this is a vital opportunity for him to show the world what he is truly made of. The young gun Qasim Akram has been continuing to grow and improve as a batter in the domestic circuit, showing is appetite to score fast and score big when he gets going. The highly talented youngster has the experience of Shoaib Malik, his senior at Central Punjab to guide him into becoming a vital middle order-batting all-rounder for KK and eventually for Pakistan hopefully.
Haider Ali, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Amir, Shoaib Malik, Aamir Yamin, Mir Hamza, Sharjeel Khan, Qasim Akram, Matthew Wade, Imran Tahir, James Vince, James Fuller, Andrew Tye, Tayyab Tahir, Mohammad Akhlaq, Muhammad Irfan Khan, Tabraiz Shamsi, Mohammad Umar, Ben Cutting, Musa Khan
Faisal Akram (partial replacement for Tabraiz Shamsi)
The belief in the camp of the reigning champions LQ is that they have assembled their strongest squad in PSL history. Lahore will feel or at least give the impression that they are here to win the title once again after finally finding a way to get the best out of their immense resources. The question now is whether their key players will either be fully fit or available for the entire tournament? Also, the loss of form of certain key bowlers could also prove crucial. In regards to their batting powerhouse, they no longer have the experience of Mohammad Hafeez to call upon, and there is uncertainty at the availability of Harry Brook who is one of the best emerging batsman in world cricket right now.
LQ have demonstrated that bowlers win tournaments, and they have three of the best T20 bowlers in world cricket right now (Shaheen, Rashid Khan and Rauf). Rauf and Rashid in particular are not going into this tournament in the best of form, with Rashid having an underwhelming SA20 and Rauf failing to maintain his high standards in the BPL. Shaheen on the other hand is a proven new ball bowler, whether his long lay off from injury will effect his deadly first over threat remains to be seen. Pakistan’s best white ball Batsman (Fakhar Zaman) also has a huge tournament ahead of him in which he will look to once again top the charts with runs up front at a healthy strike rate.
Besides the key players for LQ, the Qalandars have made some brilliant acquisitions in the draft for season 8. The selection of Sikander Raza at the peak of his career is one of the strongest picks by the franchise, as they will look to use his international experience, form and ability to perform under pressure with bat and ball in order to fill the void left by Mohammad Hafeez. The return of Dilbar Hussain is also a welcome one, as he could become the fourth key bowler once again in an already strong bowling attack. What remains to be seen is if Dilbar is fit enough to play the entire tournament, and if his pace is still touching the high 140s, and if he has addressed his issues with run ups/overstepping the line. Another smart pick by the LQ franchise was the selection of Hussain Talat. The experienced, strong left handed middle order batsman often goes unnoticed for what he brings to the table, which is his local knowledge/experience and innovative stroke play.
The acquisitions of the English duo of Sam Billings and Liam Dawson are also brilliant work by the Qalandars management. Billings belongs to the new generation of strong, hard hitting English cricketer that have revolutionized the white ball game. However he has not been able to fulfill his potential like others of his generation (Bairstow, Butler, Livingstone etc). Billings has likely resigned to play out the rest of his career in Franchise leagues, and the gig at Lahore Qalanders could provide him an opportunity to play this league for the next 4 to 5 years. Dawson will also look to establish himself as a long-term replacement to Samit Patel who proved to be very useful to LQ for many seasons.
Rashid Khan, Haris Rauf, Shaheen Shah Afridi, David Wiese, Abdullah Shafique, Harry Brook, Kamran Ghulam, Zaman Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Hussain Talat, Sikandar Raza, Liam Dawson, Dilbar Hussain, Mirza Tahir Baig, Ahmed Danlyal, Shawaiz Irfan, Jordan Cox, Jalat Khan, Ahsan Bhatti
Sam Billings (partial replacement for Rashid Khan), Shane Dadswell (replacement for Harry Brook), Kusal Mendis (partial replacement for Jordan Cox)
Islamabad United has been playing BazBall before the term Bazball became a thing. They are very direct in their approach when it comes to batting, a clear plan of attacking throughout the innings with an aggressive batting line up and bowlers that can also add value with the bat. With an energetic captain in Shadab and an ultra-aggressive template, the United boys look ready once again to challenge for the PSL title. Unfortunately for them, their approach has not always seen them through in the must win games at the crucial junctures of the tournament in recent history. Can they make amends to this for this season?
The lineup of belligerent, attacking T20 batsman is abundant in the IU squad. Hales, Gurbaz, Munro, and Stirling all are capable of singlehandedly changing a game with the bat as the overseas options. This is also complemented well by the local power-hitters available to IU with Asif Ali, Sohaib Maqsood, Azam Khan and Faheem Ashraf who are all very capable to play strong and aggressive cricket in their local conditions. The bowling all-rounders Shadab Khan, Hassan Ali and Wasim jr are also no mugs with the bat either. United can undoubtedly pick game changers all the way through with their squad depth.
Whilst retaining or recalling the vast majority of their core set of players, the United camp have also made headlines by picking the emerging Pakistan talent Abrar Ahmed. The ‘mystery spinner’ has plenty of PSL experience with Zalmi and also now at Test level with Pakistan. What remains to be seen is how the established leg spinner Shadab Khan wants to use Abrar during his campaign and whether he is willing to use a playing spot on an extra spin bowler. Mubasir Khan is also starting to find confidence and has been blossoming in Pakistan’s domestic circuit, showing his ability to play attacking cricket with strong shots all around the park. Similarly for Mubasir, it remains to be seen how he will fit in to the XI and if he can be used in a highly powerful top and middle order. United have also done well to add variety to their pace options by picking the upcoming left arm seam bowler of Afghanistan, Fazlhaq Farooqi. The young Afghan has been landing T20 gigs across the globe after showing his potency of picking up wickets in the powerplay and restricting oppositions with decent economy. Islamabad United and Pakistan fans will also be hoping that Zeeshan Zameer is fully fit and available to play most matches for IU as the emerging player. Like Ihsanullah of KPK, Zameer is also a highly talented right arm fast bowler who has emerged through the ranks from Pakistan’s u19. He captured the imagination of Pakistan’s fans with the beautiful wicket delivery of Babar Azam last year.
Shadab Khan, Asif Ali, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Azam Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Colin Munro, Paul Stirling, Alex Hales, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Abrar Ahmed, Sohaib Maqsood, Rumman Raees, Zeeshan Zamir, Hassan Nawaz, Mubasir Khan, Tom Curran, Zafar Gohar
Gus Atkinson (partial replacement for Rahmanullah Gurbaz), Tymal Mills (partial replacement for Alex Hales)
Quetta will be going into this year’s PSL with a balanced squad that has the potential to challenge for the title. They have the right kind of international overseas talent, the experienced local cricketers some of whom have performed well for Pakistan recently and an energetic battery of pace bowlers as well. Just like Islamabad, they must also find a way to best utilize their resources in order to jump the final hurdles. A return in confidence for the captain Sarfaraz Ahmed due to his heroics in the NZ Test series could ignite the spark that is needed for their title campaign. Also, the red-hot form of Iftikhar Ahmed would be a danger sign for all opponents this year, as Iftikhar is better than ever!
QG will be banking on Naseem Shah to stay motivated for this franchise and deliver up front with the new ball, the improvements Naseem has made to his white ball game spell threats to top order batsmen throughout the league. QG’s priority pick in the draft was the Sri Lankan ace bowling all-rounder Wanindu Hasaranga, who has been one of the best and most sought after T20 bowlers in the world with his game changing/wicket taking abilities in the middle overs spells. Alongside Hasaranga, the spin bowling experience of Mohammad Nawaz and Iftikhar Ahmed will be crucial in order to tie down teams into the classic chokehold tactic that Sarfaraz Ahmed was expertly known for during his reign as the number 1 T20i captain of the world once upon a time.
QG will also be hoping that they see the best of Jason Roy for whatever time he is available for the tournament. The England opener is still one of the best strikers of the ball in world cricket, however his form has not been ideal of late. Besides Roy, QG have picked one of the best available players from the second draft in the form of Will Jacks who was thoroughly impressive as a power hitter in the SAT20. Jacks also provides a bowling option with his off-spin, he is a complete cricketer who will have an eye on a big IPL contract with good performances in this year’s PSL.
With his brother now a part of the selection committee, Umar Akmal will feel that he has no excuses this time round if he isn’t selected for Pakistan going into the future. Umar, like Sharjeel and Amir has now got the best opportunity to show the world and the Pakistan selectors why he is still the best option for the middle order by scoring runs and winning matches for his side. His fate is now in his own hands and not in the hands of those who he may believe have kept him out.
Afghanistan’s Naveen ul Haq is a very underrated yet a very good emerging T20 bowler in world cricket, and he has also found his way into the QG squad due to an excellent pick by their management in the draft. Naveen’s reputation as a reliable T20 bowler has continued to grow with good performances in various T20 leagues and also for Afghanistan. Naveen as one of the three seamers alongside Naseem and Hasnain is a great balance, alongside Hasaranga, Nawaz and Iftikhar as their spin options.
Mohammad Nawaz, Iftikhar Ahmed, Jason Roy, Mohammad Hasnain, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Naveen ul Haq, Umar Akmal, Will Smeed, Wanindu Hasaranga, Naseem Shah, Odean Smith, Ahsan Ali, Umaid Asif, Muhammad Zahid, Abdul Bangalzai, Aimal Khan, Martin Guptill, Omair Bin Yousuf, Qais Ahmed, Saud Shakeel
Dwaine Pretorius (partial replacement for Odean Smith), Will Jacks (partial replacement for Jason Roy), Nuwan Thushara (partial replacement for Naveen ul Haq)
It is hard to predict which side is clearly head and shoulders above others as favorites to win the tournament. Captaincy, management, rotation of players, availability of overseas players are some of the key factors that decide who will eventually become the champion in the past. Some franchises will prefer to play their matches on some grounds as well whilst not look as dominating on others. Karachi will most likely be a runs fest ground that will suit the teams chasing on this venue. Lahore provides a better balance to bat and ball.
A personal assessment of the squads and franchise performance history would suggest that Multan and Islamabad are likely to be two of the four sides qualifying for the play offs. Lahore Qalandars should also join them as long as they continue with the momentum they have now got for the past two seasons. The fourth side is open for all. Can Babar prove that he is the best captain in Pakistan for this format? Can Sarfaraz find his old mojo and reignite the QG winning machine? Or will Karachi Kings under Imad make a huge statement on the field just like their players have been making huge statements off it? Regardless of our questions and predictions, this year’s PSL will be the most watched and talked about in the history of this tournament!