KARACHI: The third edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) kicks off with the match between defending champions Peshawar Zalmi and newcomers Multan Sultans at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on February 22, with all six captains eager to make a mark on the tournament that ends with a historic final at the National Stadium of Karachi on March 25.
Darren Sammy’s Peshawar Zalmi will be defending the title they won in front of a euphoric crowd at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
Peshawar started off slowly last time around but were able to pick up pace right when it mattered the most. They will be hoping to continue their positive momentum into this year’s edition.
The loss of the talismanic Shahid Afridi will be a big blow, both on the field and in the dressing room, but Peshawar will be confident of a repeat having retained most of their squad.
Sarfraz Ahmed has a happy knack of defying the odds with his plucky side — having done so with both Pakistan and Quetta on several occasions — so it would be a fool’s errand to rule out the two-time finalists.
However, the loss of the likes of Ahmad Shahzad, Zulfiqar Babar and Tymal Mills mean that the team does look a bit light on paper. The incoming Shane Watson may bring with him a huge amount of experience but the veteran is about to draw the curtains on an extraordinary career. The addition of Barbados-born fast-bowler Jofra Archer, meanwhile, may make up for the outgoing Mills.
The most expensive franchise from the first PSL, Karachi Kings have had an underwhelming two PSLs so far. In their quest to change that, they have overhauled most of their squad.
Spin-bowling all-rounder Imad Wasim has been named the captain of the side, while four of the side’s most impressive performers last year — former captain Shoaib Malik, Sri Lankan legend Kumar Sangakkara, West Indian all-rounder Kieron Pollard and the tournament’s leading wicket-taker Sohail Khan — have all been allowed to leave for pastures anew. West Indian superstar Chris Gayle has also been let go.
They have been replaced by the likes of Afridi, wicketkeeper Muhammad Rizwan and England’s limited-overs skipper Eoin Morgan.
Misbahul Haq’s Islamabad United won the first edition of the PSL but could only manage to finish fourth in the second edition.
The former Pakistan skipper is a canny operator of his bowlers and he has a whole host of bowlers to choose from. Rumman Raees, Muhammad Sami, Andre Russell and Faheem Ashraf make up the fast-bowling cast, while Shadab Khan, Samuel Badree, Iftikhar Ahmed and Samit Patel make up the spin options.
Alongside Karachi, Islamabad have made the most changes in their squad so it will be interesting to see whether they can find the form they boasted in the first edition.
Lahore Qalandars have finished bottom of the pile in the previous two editions of the PSL; becoming the team to miss out on a place in the playoffs on both occasions. The side is led by former New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum but has already been dealt a major blow as Australian opener Chris Lynn has been ruled out of the tournament.
Lahore have been let down by their poor bowling in the past but have arguably the best bowling attack this time around. Sohail joins a formidable bowling attack that features spinners Yasir Shah and Sunil Narine alongside Bangladeshi fast-bowling sensation Mustafizur Rehman.
Such is the squad boasted by the newest addition to the PSL roster that they cannot possibly be taken lightly.
Karachi’s Malik, Sangakkara and Pollard have been joined by some of the finest talent in T20I cricket. Specialists such as Sohail Tanvir, Junaid Khan, Muhammad Irfan and Imran Tahir have been added to the bowling department, while the likes of Shahzad and Darren Bravo can provide the team with explosive starts up top.
Add to that an enviable backroom staff and it is clear that Multan are not in the PSL to merely make up the numbers.