PSL 7: A Tournament All Six Teams have a Decent Chance of Winning

Thanks to the drafting system and with only six teams, Pakistan Super League has always been a hard to predict league. The availability of players with security issues always looming large, accessing team strengths is fraught with danger. Initially Islamabad United, Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi were fastest of the blocks but Karachi after a couple of seasons and Multan soon after their entry caught up with them. Only Lahore Qalandar, the tournament has been uber competitive.

So, when you throw in Covid-19 in the mix along with all the restrictions, isolations and bio-secure bubbles, 2022 could be the most unpredictable tournament ever. With 20-men squads, on paper, teams have almost all bases covered. But which cricketer arrives when, what is the isolation period looking like, the vaccine status, and worse if is someone infected…these questions will remain at the forefront throughout the tournament. Peshawar Zalmi’s 4 four player are likely to miss the tournament start due to testing positive for Covid-19. From U19 World Cup to multiple international series, its nigh on impossible to predict what type of squads’ teams will end up with.

And yet us fans can’t help conjecture scenarios, team 11s, strategies for our favourite teams would do. So here is a low down on the PSL squads are shaping up.

Disclaimer: I have gone ahead and assumed a perfect world, where the players in the squad are all Covid-19 free and available. Because the alternative is scary and more importantly simply unknown.

Quetta Gladiators

Their big move this year was to bring in Shahid Khan Afridi from Multan Sultan. The ageless (well almost) superstar grabs eyeballs, sponsors and a lot of fanfare. Can he defy age and be the all-rounder Quetta so dearly needed?

I have looked after different combinations with both batting heavy 11s and bowling heavy formations. How will Quetta fit in their main man Mohammad Nawaz, Shahid Afridi and Noor Ahmed in an 11? Do they expect square turners in Karachi or Lahore? The only consideration is if Afghanistan go deep in the U19 World Cup, Noor Ahmed might miss a large chunk of the tournament. A cloud also hangs over Hasnain’s bowling action but Quetta have picked enough fast bowling reserves. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to it.

Their new ball bowling has been a problem too. But with James Faulkner and Sohail Tanvir in the squad, things might change.

Over the past two seasons, with the bat Quetta had missed a strong Pakistani batter to complement their captain. Sarfaraz Ahmed as the accumulator was present along with inexperienced Azam Khan. But with the top order also not firing too often, they needed batter who can take on pace bowling in the middle overs. Enter Iftikhar Ahmed!
This could be THE tournament for Iftikhar Ahmed. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa man has been on the fringes of team Pakistan and almost all his PSL teams. With Quetta, he can be their instigator, finisher and their local pace hitter. Quetta needed Iftikhar and Iftikhar needed Quetta. Can he deliver now? This could potentially be his tournament like it was for Sohaib Maqsood last year.

To compensate for James Vince and Jason Roy missing the initial phase of the tournament, Quetta have stockpiled top order batters. They potentially could have gone for Ammad Butt to bulk up their middle to lower order with a batter who can bowl as well. Worth mentioning that in Abdul Wahid Bangalzai they have a good prospect and its always heartening to see a Baluchistan lad turn out for Quetta.

Nevertheless, Sarfaraz potentially will have a better time managing the troops and the ammo shouldn’t go missing like it has for the past two seasons due to varying reasons.
Oh yes, they also have Umar Akmal. At his best, he plugs a gap in the squad. At …his … best!

Select 11

Jason Roy (F)
James Vince (F)
Abdul Wahid Bangalzai (E)
Iftikhar Ahmed
Sarfraz Ahmed (C) (K)
Umar Akmal
Mohammad Nawaz
James Faulkner (F)
Sohail Tanvir
Noor Ahmed (F)
Mohammad Hasnain

Islamabad United

Some may argue that they were the best team in the last tournament with more wins overall than the eventual champions. But tournaments don’t work like that. That performance meant the team they needed just a little bit of fine tuning and not a major overhaul, unlike Quetta. That came in shape of Azam Khan, the spin six hitter and the match up manipulator. If the keeper batter has to fulfil his potential, he will not find a better suited team to do it.

The unlikely but possible top four of Paul Stirling, Alex Hales, Colin Munro and Rahmanullah Gurbaz would instil fear in many a team. The middle order has lost both Iftikhar Ahmed and Hussain Talat. So, onus will probably fall on the likes of captain Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf and their emerging player Mubashir Khan. Asif Ali is coming in on a high, not trying to desperately resurrect his Pakistan career. And before we forget, Islamabad will have the deepest batting line up with their potential number 11 Marchant de Lange also capable of clobbering sixes.

The South African pacer’s hard lengths would be useful especially against local batters and so would Reece Topley’s left arm angle for the 12th floor. It’s a tossup between the two foreign pacers. One wonders if de Lange’s entry is a direct response to the tremendous success of Shahnawaz Dahani.
The settled management of United would definitely be targeting their 3rd title!

Select 11

Paul Stirling (F)
Alex Hales (F)
Colin Munro (F)
Azam Khan (K)
Shadab Khan ©
Mubashir Khan (E)
Asif Ali
Faheem Asharaf
Hasan Ali
Wasim Jr
Reece Topley (F)

Karachi Kings

Karachi Kings perhaps have the most experienced and polished emerging player. Arguably they also have the most exciting and unique emerging player. Trouble is, both Qasim Akram and Faisal Akram (not relatives) are at the U19 World Cup. If Pakistan U19 go all the way, they are likely to miss at least half of the tournament. A fresh faced Talha Ahsan is set to take up the challenge. The value of a performing emerging player cannot be overstated as evident with Dahani’s miraculous run last year.

Nevertheless, they have managed to retain their foreign core of Joe Clarke, Mohammad Nabi, Chris Jordan and added Lewis Gregory. The batting trio compliment the strengths of Sharjeel Khan and especially newly appointed captain Babar Azam. Fans would be satisfied with the way their batting is shaping up.

The same perhaps cannot be said of their bowling. Mohammad Amir’s conditional retirement (a poor choice of word for what really was just conditional unavailability) hasn’t bore fruit as he would have expected. Yet his importance to the Kings is undeniable. With even Chris Jordan missing for the initial period, the onus will be on Amir to deliver. Mohammad Imran, poached from Peshawar Zalmi could also be the difference maker. Unlike the other five teams, however, they do lack an out and out pacer. Their spin attack with Nabi and former captain Imad Wasim also remains functional rather than spectacular.

Having said that the unusually long winters in Karachi might help their seam bowlers a tad. Plus, their batting remains capable of posting over par scores consistently. Last year before the Covid enforced break Karachi looked ominous. Now, they probably start the tournament as a middle tier team.

Select 11

Sharjeel Khan
Babar Azam
Joe Clarke (K) (F)
Mohammad Nabi (F)
Lewis Gregory (F)
Imad Wasim
Qasim Akram (E)
Chris Jordan (F)
Mohammad Ilyas
Mohammad Imran
Mohammad Amir

Lahore Qalandars

In the Pakistan leg of the PSL last year, Mohammad Hafeez looked like a world beater. Unfortunately, that proved to be the fag end of his purple patch. In Abu Dhabi, their campaign ended in a whimper and just over a year later did the all-rounder’s Pakistan career. Can he regain some of his imperious form of the Karachi leg? Lahore bank of him heavily as their other middle order options are somewhat unproven.

The top three of Fakhar Zaman, Phil Salt and Abdullah Shafiq is decent without matching the pedigree of the other tops 3 in the tournament. Sultan’s opportunistic swoop for Tim David leaves a whole in the Lahore 11. However, with David Wiese and Rashid Khan, they have potential lower order strength.

There are no such troubles when it comes to their bowling. In Zaman Khan, they have a promising emerging talent capable of delivering 140+ thunderbolts. Rashid Khan and Shaheen Afridi are world class talents. Haris Rauf may not be at that level but isn’t a weak link by no means. While Wiese looks innocuous yet finds a way more often than not.

Qalandars seem to be the opposite of Kings. Kings with a batting heavily line up with Pakistan’s best batter at the helm, Lahore with a bowling favoured strategy with Pakistan’s best bowler leading the charge.
Can captain Shaheen Afridi resist the urge to use up all three DRS inside his first over?

Select 11

Fakhar Zaman
Phil Salt (K) (F)
Abdullah Shafique
Mohammad Hafeez
Sohail Akhtar
Dean Foxcroft (F)
David Wiese (F)
Rashid Khan (F)
Shaheen Afridi (C)
Haris Rauf
Zaman Khan (E)

Multan Sultans

The defending champions surprised many last year by their stellar run in the Abu Dhabi leg. It was a miraculous win with Multan using specialist batters and bowlers primarily.With Shan Masood, Mohammad Rizwan, Sohaib Maqsood, Khushdil Shah, Rilee Rossouw, Johnson Charles and Sohail Tanvir they found enough “dept” to post high scores or chase targets down.

With the ball too, there were some surprisingly contrasting stars. Imran Khan the senior stateman joining forces with the new kid of the block Shahnawaz Dhani. Most of the main cast remains with the team this year too.

They have added Tim David and allrounders like David Willey, Abbas Afridi, Dominic Drakes, Abbas Afridi and Asif Afridi to move away from the specialist only philosophy. Rumman Raees, who also has added some firepower to his batting, will be eager to impress upon his long-awaited return.

The squad looks well-rounded. But can Sohaib Maqsood, Imran Khan senior and Shahnawaz Dahani repeat the heroics of last year? Is their emerging player ready to deliver half of what Dahani did last year?

Mohammad Rizwan, the ICC T20I player of the year and Imran Tahir will need support.

Select 11

Mohammad Rizwan (K) (C)
Sohaib Maqsood
Shan Masood
Rilee Rossouw (F)
Khushdil Shah
Tim David (F)
David Willey (F)
Abbas Afridi
Imran Khan Sr
Shahnawaz Dhani
Imran Tahir (F)

Peshawar Zalmi

Hazratullah Zazai, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Sherfane Rutherford, Liam Livingstone, Haider Ali and Ben Cutting as aggressors; Shoaib Malik and Hussain Talat as accumulators, especially at this level…Zalmi has a formidable batting line up. They have the quality to replace Liam Livingstone who will miss the initial few matches.

The local core of pacer lead by ageless Wahab Riaz, new ball specialist Sameen Gul, hard length specialist Arshad Iqbal, the Malinga replica Salman Irshad, still-continues-to-play Sohail Khan would be complimented by ever improving England international Saqib Mahmood and his Vitality Blast colleague Pat Brown. Although with a larger roster, Zalmi has moved away from their pace only strategy and drafted in Matt Parkinson and Usman Qadir.

Zalmi even during their supposed transition have maintained a quality squad and were able to make it to the final last year. Can they go one better?

Select 11

Kamran Akmal (K)
Hazratullah Zazai (F)
Liam Livingstone (F)
Haider Ali
Shoaib Malik
Sherfane Rutherford (F)
Ammad Butt
Wahab Riaz (C)
Usman Qadir
Saqib Mahmood (F)
Mohammad Umer (E)

Asjad Khan

While a minimalist at heart, AK is expansive with his words. Always on the lookout for things to write about, he is most interested in finding narratives in cinema and sports stories.

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