The second edition of the Pakistan Super League is about to start, with the teams already landing in the Emirates.
After a successful first campaign, there are expectations that the month-long festival will be even more intriguing and exciting for cricketing fans across the globe.
Watch Ali Zafar, Misbahul Haq lock horns in this push-up challenge
We take a look at the five teams and their chances in the upcoming tournament.
Misbahul Haq’s Islamabad United will be defending their title in the tournament starting from February 9. United had a slow start to their campaign last time around but gradually gained momentum as the business end of the tournament came around, defeating Quetta Gladiators in the final. This time, however, the team has already suffered a major blow as star West Indian all-rounder Andre Russell is set to miss the tournament after being banned from cricketing activity for one year following his absence from numerous dope tests.
Key man: Shane Watson
In the absence of Russell, United’s reliance on former Australia all-rounder Shane Watson will be even greater. The 35-year-old had a relatively poor outing in the recently concluded Big Bash League, but United’s team management will be hoping that Watson will use his experience of nearly 300 T20’s and help his side retain the title.
Last year’s runners-up Quetta Gladiators will once again go into the tournament as the underdogs, despite last year’s impressive showing. However, the signings of South African batsman Rilee Rossouw and Sri Lanka all-rounder Thisara Perera can be the shot in the arm they require to once again rub shoulders with the finest around.
Key man: Sarfraz Ahmed
Quetta Gladiators’ key man will be their inspirational leader Sarfraz Ahmed, who played a key role in the team’s success last year. It was during the first edition of the PSL that the whole of Pakistan realised the 29-year-old’s ability to lead the side. This year, Gladiators will once again be looking at Sarfraz to lead from the front, both with the bat as well as behind the stumps.
Darren Sammy’s Peshawar Zalmi will be eyeing an improved showing under the charismatic leadership of cricket’s only two-time World T20 winning captain. Zalmi have made quite a number of impressive signings to strengthen their squad, notably that of England T20I captain Eoin Morgan, West Indian star Marlon Samuels and Sri Lanka’s Tillakaratne Dilshan.
Key man: Darren Sammy
Zalmi’s key man this season will be captain Darren Sammy, who now has the extra responsibility of leading the side after veteran all-rounder Shahid Afridi stepped down. Sammy has already shown his skills as the leader of the pack, but Zalmi will be heavily relying on him to deliver with the bat in the slog overs, and he can be handy with the bowl as well as he showed in the last edition.
Kumar Sangakkara’s Karachi Kings were the first team to be knocked out of the tournament in the knockout stages, ultimately finishing fourth. They started the season as most people’s pre-tournament favourites, but failed to live up to the expectations, and won just two matches out of nine. The franchise has understandably chopped and changed the squad, bringing in the likes of West Indies T20 specialists Chris Gayle and Keiron Pollard as well as young Pakistan batsman Babar Azam.
Key man: Shoaib Malik
Despite all the changes, the man who started off as the skipper last time around, Shoaib Malik, will be one of the key players for Karachi.
With heaps of experience behind him, as well as a good track record in familiar UAE conditions, Malik can help Kings perform with both bat and ball. The 35-year-old was unable to set the world alight in the last tournament but will be eager to prove his worth this time around, especially since the management will be looking towards Malik and Sangakkara to provide some much-needed stability in the middle of the innings.
Lahore Qalandars finished bottom of the pile in last year’s PSL, becoming the only team to miss out on a place in the playoffs. The result prompted their management to bring in former New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum and hand him the captaincy at the expense of Pakistan ODI skipper Azhar Ali, who had a horrid time last year. The franchise has understandably decided to strengthen its bowling attack, bringing in Sohail Tanvir, James Franklin and Bilawal Bhatti
Key man: Brendon McCullum
Lahore Qalandars’ marquee signing of the season is surely the danger man that the other teams will be looking to dismiss as soon as possible.
McCullum can take the game away from any side if he stays at the crease long enough, while he is also one of the best captains around. The 35-year-old comes into the tournament at the back of an impressive Big Bash League, where he captained the Brisbane Heat superbly.
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