Many thanks to Rana for his hard-hitting and in-depth review of arguably the most exciting and competitive eighth season of the Pakistan Super League.
By Rana (21 March 2023)
With the then Chief Selector of Pakistan, Shahid Afridi, demanding a 130+ Strike Rate from all batters wishing to play T20s, and with some of the bluntest commentators having none of the anchor role gimmicks, the theme of this year's fast paced PSL has been the infamous 'strategic retirement' verdict considering Pakistan's current strategy of 'taking the game deep' and having enough wickets to launch a late assault.
That being said, this year's PSL has been one of the best and most fiercely contested PSL season, which has come to an end with Lahore Qalandars being crowned as the champions for the second time consecutively. The Qalandars successfully defended their titles in arguably the best, most tense PSL final in the tournament’s history. Considering the fact that the team finishing last (Karachi Kings) defeated the finalists Lahore and Multan in three out of their 4 encounters with them, and with Quetta Gladiators who also could not qualify for the play offs yet they pulled off one of the most iconic chases of 241 against Peshawar Zalmi, there is no doubt that the 6 teams participating gave the fans of Pakistan cricket and PSL the entertainment and quality they were craving!
Considering all of the talk, speculations, tensions and personal digs at players and managements, the answer to everything could only have been the cricket. It is safe to say that many questions have been answered and Pakistan cricket is ready to enter a new phase with a refreshing view and ethos to the game.
Standout emerging Performers
With questions being raised about the tempo set by the current opening pair of Pakistan, Saim has indeed emerged as someone that can break the hold of Babar and Rizwan with his flamboyant, dashing style of attacking cricket. The young left hander played some excellent knocks for Peshawar Zalmi, having scored over 340 runs at a strike of 165, with five 50’s for his side. Rightly so, he has been called up for Pakistan in the absence of the two established openers. A huge opportunity awaits him against Afghanistan in the coming weeks.
The second leading wicket taker in his first, full PSL season, Ihsanullah carried an x factor for the Sultans and was highly instrumental in enabling them to reach the final during their campaign and was rewarded with the player of the tournament award as well. Pakistan’s pace battery has found a new, tall speed merchant who can cause havoc on more supporting tracks overseas. The potential to match the express pace of Anrich Nortje, Mark Wood and Lockie Ferguson is there as long as he is handled correctly, and his focus is in the right direction.
3. Azam Khan
Azam has honed his skill as a destructive middle order batsman playing league cricket around the world and has finally set the tournament alight with some outstanding knocks for Islamabad United. Having scored 282 runs with an average of 40, a strike rate of 161 and 17 sixes in the tournament, Azam has caught the eyes of the national selectors that are willing to overlook his fitness issues for the immense skill he possesses as a middle order batsman. Azam will look to fill the massive void currently visible in Pakistan’s middle order and will try to bring his A game against the masterful spinners of Afghanistan in the UAE.
4. Abbas Afridi
Although the leading wicket taker of this year’s PSL was not selected to represent Pakistan against Afghanistan, one must think that national call up isn’t too far away for Abbas who bowled brilliantly and smartly for the Sultans in order to clinch some tight games and situations for them. With his many tricks and variations, nobody truly got a hold of Abbas in the tournament even on some of the most difficult tracks for bowlers throughout the tournament.
5. Abdullah Shafique
Interpol was alerted very early regarding concerns that the Abdullah Shafique we as Pakistan fans were accustomed to is missing, and the AS on display is a totally different person/player. Abdullah took to the number 3 position and made it his own, playing some of the best knocks in the tournament in this pivotal position. A strike rate of 144 is indeed an indication of his willingness to compromise on stats/milestones and play with the correct intent that we usually see from the best batsmen in the world, Virat Kohli being a prime example. Abdullah deserves his national call up after being brave and batting like a true champion in the middle order for the Qalandars.
Impressive returning performers
1. Imad Wasim
Imad was on a mission to prove his worth for the Pakistan cricket team, and his hard work paid off for him on a personal level with an outstanding season for him with the bat. It almost seemed too easy for him with his 134 average and a strike rate of 170, having hit 16 sixes in the process. Imad would be the first to admit that his runs and form would have been more valuable had Karachi won enough games to qualify for the play offs. Nonetheless, congratulations on a well-deserved recall to the national side.
2. Faheem Ashraf
Although not impressing too much with the ball, there is no denying that Rana Faheem Ashraf has looked brilliant with the bat for Islamabad United in the middle order, and playing some clutch knocks for the side. Arguably the best pace bowling all-rounder of the tournament, Faheem’s 215 runs at an average of 35 and a strike rate of 149.30 is indeed a great effort from him. His reverse, scoop six in the final over against Multan is also most likely the shot of the tournament too!
3. Fakhar Zaman
One of the biggest draws of the PSL, Fakhar finds the most confidence and trust in him as a player in the Qalandar’s shirt. In his best position (opener), Fakhar has now delivered two back-to-back PSL’s to Qalandars and also topped the six hitting chart with 27 sixes in the tournament. Pakistan’s best modern-day white ball player will be rested against Afghanistan but will hopefully return with good form and confidence running into a crucial world cup year for the country.
It is difficult to say who has been the best or worst leader in this tournament regardless of positions. A tendency of selfishness was at display throughout the campaign from almost all leaders. However, there were some impressive elements worth mentioning.
One of them being the fact that Pakistan’s captain Babar Azam showed that when shoved into a corner, he is willing to adapt and listen to the senior management above him unlike the damning verdict Wasim Akram had of him. Babar understood during the progression of the tournament that his best option is to defend a total rather than his chosen way of chasing every time. His own strike rate and intent as a result was far better this time as compared to recent history.
Multan’s skipper Mohammad Rizwan came across as the most organized in the draft and also during the tournament. There is no doubt that he has got the best out of his limited resources in Anwar Ali, Usama Mir, Abbas and Ihsanullah.
Shaheen Shah Afridi may have won the PSL but there are definitely questions regarding his ability to keep his discipline and temper in control if things are not going his way. Also, his belief in his ability to bat in the top six for his side may also start rubbing off on the senior batters of his side regardless of whether he does come off every now and then with an impressive batting performance.
Imad Wasim was lucky to have used himself in the way that suits him, but this will not be the case when representing Pakistan or any other team that he plays for as a player only. Imad did show signs of independent leadership, but his tendency of hitting the panic button far too often could well have been the reason for the eventual early exit of Karachi Kings. Too many changes on a regular basis did not allow any consistency for his side. Also, a trust in the wrong kind of players in the wrong positions has also been detrimental for him.
Shadab Khan for too long has been getting away as an unquestionable captain for Islamabad United. His leadership flaws are vastly overlooked due to the confidence and charisma he supposedly carries on the field. The fact that Islamabad United have failed to reach the final of the PSL since 2018, and Shadab has failed to get them through in 2 seasons having been in brilliant positions during the league matches suggests that there is a lack of getting the job done when it matters. Next year could well be his final opportunity to lead the side.
Sarfaraz Ahmed was once a great leader of men, but unfortunately for the Sarfaraz loyalists it is probably the right time for him to step down as the leader of the Quetta Gladiators and potentially look for a mentorship role in the management. The balance of the side was always disturbed by Sarfaraz’s ambition of playing in prominent batting positions and not adding any momentum to his team with the bat. Selections have also been questionable and poor, whilst there has also been some bad luck in not having your ace platinum player available in Wanindu Hasaranga.
1. Haider Ali (Karachi Kings)
By far the most disappointing performer of the PSL (Pakistan cricketers) has to be Haider Ali for Karachi Kings. Having been with the Pakistan squad for a long time leading up to this tournament, Haider could not find any meaningful form for the Kings and has played his role in losing at least one winnable game for the franchise. A terrible season for the Kings would most likely result in the once highly rated Pakistani international being released, and it would be difficult to find potential suiters going forward for the hard-hitting batsman.
2. Haris Rauf (Lahore Qalandars)
Although Haris who is one of the first name on most Pakistan team sheets bowled well in spells, and some games. However, the expectations from the express speedster were far higher, whilst the form and economy (9+) of the pace bowler has been highly disappointing. Harris was extremely lucky that Zaman Khan saved his blushes by defending 13 in the final over of the final, otherwise his terrible penultimate over of 22 runs could well have cost Qalandars their championship. There have clearly been better and more deserving seamers for Pakistan than Harris in this tournament.
3. Iftikhar Ahmed (Quetta Gladiators)
Iftikhar came into this tournament in the form of his life, having scored bulks of runs in the UAE T10 league, BPL, good performances for Pakistan in the world cup and also the famous six sixes to Wahab Riaz in the warmup exhibition match. However, this form was definitely not translated for Quetta. Underwhelming season for him with a mediocre average of 23 and a strike rate of 126 could well suggest that the PSL is not a standard that Iftikhar can perform in. It will be interesting to see if he is retained by QG, or if Iftikhar will once again be sent packing to find a new franchise having not been able to settle anywhere.
4. Sharjeel Khan (Karachi Kings)
Having been handed a lifeline by the new selection committee of Pakistan that were willing to overlook past misdemeanours, Sharjeel did do the right thing by losing some weight and get himself in the best shape for a national recall. However, the performances have just not been coming for him with the bat. Too many early, soft dismissals and poor fielding efforts have not allowed him to settle into an opening position for the Kings who were also ruthless by dropping him for most games. It is highly likely that Sharjeel, will not be retained by the Kings, and age is not really on his side.
5. Zeeshan Zameer (Islamabad United)
A bit harsh but it is fair to say that Zeeshan was one of the most exciting talents going into this tournament in the emerging player category. He captured the imagination last season with his beautiful run up and action, whilst also prizing out Babar Azam with a beautiful delivery. Zameer has been injured; hence his availability has not been consistent. We hope that this young talent soon finds himself on the right track and returns as a potential three format pace bowler for Pakistan.
Best individual performances
Although we were blessed to witness some absolute masterclasses with the bat on the Rawal Pindi batting haven, as Jason Roy played a blinder of an innings of 145* against Zalmi, and Usman Khan scored the fastest PSL hundred off 36 balls. There were some performances that deserve a lot of recognition considering their impact on their team’s campaign and pursuit of the PSL title.
1. Abdullah Shafique 65 (40) v Multan Sultans (Final)
Although it was not a flashy 100+ score, the grit and determination Abdullah showed on the day was highly pivotal in ensuring that he laid the perfect foundation for his side to mount a surreal assault in the final overs propelling the score to a daunting 200 in the first innings of a grand final. Abdullah stayed strong throughout the innings whilst partners where deserting him and continued to strike the Sultans bowlers asserting pressure on them with a run rate of 8-9 runs throughout the innings. Abdullah has proven that he indeed can be given a long run for Pakistan in the crucial number 3 position, as Babar Azam the premier batsman of Pakistan does not wish to take this position that should be his.
2. Mohammad Haris 85 (54) v Lahore Qalandars (Eliminator 2)
Whilst the Zalmi team fell short of runs on the day, we still witnessed one of the best innings against a top class bowling attack of Lahore in their own den by young Harris, who in his short career so far has played some memorable knocks for Pakistan and Zalmi. The sheer audacity to reverse lap Shaheen Afridi and to ramp him too for six was a sight to behold. A high-quality knock in a high-pressure game, it deserved to be on the winning side especially considering the bravery he showed against Rashid Khan as well.
3. Aamer Jamal 2-36 v Islamabad United (Eliminator 1)
It is very rare to see a bowler finding a ‘demon mode’ in his bowling effort, and an effort of that sort which turns the game on its head for their team. Although these figures are not as decorated as a 4fer or a 5fer would be, the spell Jamal bowled that day was breath-taking. Suddenly channelling a rhythm that enabled him to touch 150kmh, Jamal was too hot to handle. Darren Sammy did not want him to bowl the final over that game, but the whole world could see that there was no way Jamal in this form and determination was allowing Islamabad to get the remaining runs needed to push through into the next eliminator.
4. Shaheen Shah Afridi 44* (15 balls) v Multan Sultans (Final)
This innings will go down in history as one of the greatest late innings assaults in a high pressure PSL game. Shaheen had been threatening to unleash a six hitting form throughout the tournament with his self-promotions into batting positions. Having chosen to go ahead of Weise and Rashid Khan, Shaheen played a stunning counter attacking knock at a time when Multan had LQ by the ropes and potentially a 160 all out score. Such clean hitting at the back end has become a rarity in Pakistan since the retirement of Abdul Razzaq, one of the most dangerous lower order hitters in the history of Pakistan’s white ball team.
5. Usama Mir 3-24 v Lahore Qalandars (Final)
There was a clear tactic by the Sultans to hold back Usama Mir for the LQ middle order, or to evade him against Fakhar Zaman who would be targeting the deep midwicket region for the angle and match up. However, Mir when called upon in the 12th over had totally turned the game on its head with the quick wickets of Fakhar, Billings and Ahsan Hafeez. Unfortunately for him, he could not contain an inspired Shaheen Afridi, but the effort in such a big game and such an awkward position, which the bowler may not be accustomed to, was a brilliant one.
Overall, it seems like the tournament was the best in terms of competitiveness and rivalry amongst the teams. It is refreshing to see Pakistani batting talent topping the sixes and strike rates charts for once. It is also great to see that Pakistan has a pool of fast bowlers who can bowl 145-155, and medium pacers who still have a lot of skill and courage to outwit the batsmen on tough bowling pitches. Ideally, going into the future we hope that the PCB can extend the boundary lengths in order to ensure that there is more balance between bat and ball. It was also refreshing to hear commentators being brave and criticizing players and management instead of the usual tributes to aesthetics (whilst overlooking game impact). Great PSL, can't wait for season 9!