Which side will the ICC World Cup 2023 Warm-up game between Pakistan and New Zealand?
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@Rana casts a critical eye on the progress of PSL 8 and hopes for an exciting finish in the league phase as the competition hots up for the 4th team to join Multan Sultans, Islamabad United and Lahore Qalandars in the race to firm up Play-Off places.

 By @Rana (25 February, 2023)

A good script usually requires a dramatic plot twist before the interval, and Azam Khan’s 97 off 42 balls is indeed that major plot twist that the PSL 8 script needed before its venue shift. On the last match of the Karachi leg, Khan’s innings, which is touted as one of the great PSL individual performances has set social media and fans into a frenzy. Debates regarding ‘fitness v talent’ are rampant.

Besides the innings by Azam, the PSL has been blessed with two more master classes with the bat from Martin Guptill and Mohammad Rizwan who both scored fantastic hundreds that lead their sides to victories. PSL has delivered some brilliant performances with the bat thus far and the fans are being entertained for sure.

Multan Sultans having played most games alongside Karachi are not only topping the leadership chart, but as a result of their hard work are also topping the batting and bowling statistics. The most delightful aspect of their dominance is that they are being spearheaded by a truly exciting talent in Ihsanullah, who is the tournaments leading wicket taker. Much was expected by the 6ft 6 monster pacer from KPK, and so far he has impressed the fans and pundits. Abbas Afridi has gone under the radar a bit due to not possessing the express pace that Ihsan possesses, however he has quietly been delivering soft blows to weaken the opposition with his wicket taking ability. Multan’s leadership has been brilliant as expected should qualify as table toppers for the play offs.

With 1 of the 4 play-off spots most likely sealed, two more clear candidates to qualify are Islamabad and Lahore. Islamabad’s captain Shadab Khan has not yet raised the intensity of his personal performances, but the united boys have shown dominance against Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi and would deserve qualifiers. The batting unit is starting to click, and the bowlers are also responding well for the united boys who are very close to finding their best combination for the tournament. Lahore has enjoyed the fixture schedule so far with plenty of rest in between their fixtures up to now. They have been dented with the big loss of Harry Brook who was instrumental in their campaign last year, however captain Shaheen found some of his world class bowling form, and the return of Rashid Khan is a massive boost. The champions of PSL 7 look to be set for a good run in their home turf for the remaining fixtures.

Whilst Multan, Islamabad and Lahore look set to take 3 out of 4 spots for play offs, the 4th spot is certainly up for grabs and a dogfight between the rivals Peshawar and Karachi is expected to go the length for this position! Performance wise, Karachi have not been as bad as Peshawar and Quetta, but the results have not reflected that unfortunately for them. Captain Imad Wasim who individually is having a tournament of a lifetime with the bat and the ball has not been able to secure at least 2 of the winnable games for his side. Karachi are now going to have to ensure that they beat their competitors Peshawar and Quetta this time, whilst also slaying one or two of the favorites in MS, IU and LQ. It’s a massive uphill task for Imad but he would be satisfied knowing that the players under him are competing hard.

This hasn’t quite been the case for Quetta who albeit all of their excellent international standard players have not performed well at all. The form of Iftikhar Ahmed has not been utilized or it has not come to any real fruition for the Gladiators. Mohammad Nawaz is clearly under pressure to perform and show why he should be he preferred option instead of Imad Wasim for the national side, but he has not been able to deliver. To Nawaz’s credit, he doesn’t have the luxury of using himself the way he would like as Imad does with his authority as captain. Much better is expected from Quetta who is staring at a bottom of the table finish at the moment.

Whilst Babar may have got one over his severe critics at his former franchise with the opening day win against Karachi, the fact remains that the questions surrounding his leadership abilities have not been answered especially with poor performances against Multan and Islamabad. The feeling is that Peshawar is too batting heavy with a clear lack of effective bowlers, and the batsman are not reliable enough to perform consistently for Babar. Babar’s reluctance to bat at number 3 and trusting a rookie, emerging talent to do the job might have to do with this as the tone setter for that position is not naturally a number 3. However, Babar would feel that he knows best and what is best for his franchise in order to sneak into the 4th position for the play offs.

Act I (midway before qualifiers) has belonged to Multan. Let's hope that the good performances by the Pakistan players will continue for those who are performing, and those who are struggling can also find their best form for the important run in to the play offs.