Imagine the perfect T20 side.
It would consist of explosive openers to take advantage of the powerplay. The kind that can take the game away from you within the first six overs. The kind that ensure relentless attack from both ends.
It would blend experience and youth in the middle order, a deadly mixture of power and deftness that can allow the batting line-up to shift and change according to the nature of the game.
It would boast an experienced captain who has seen it all and knows just how to get the best out of the players at his disposal so that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.
It would have a lower order that can provide the required propulsion in the death overs.
It would have spinners able to deceive, beguile and contain in equal measure and pacers adept at carrying out their captain’s bidding to the very word.
It would have a long batting line-up in order to give the batsmen the license to attack.
It would have several bowling options so that the captain always has several plans to play around with in any given situation.
In short, imagine Islamabad United.
Misbahul Haq’s men have already qualified for the playoffs and are favourites to finish in the top two for the first time.
And boy do they look an ominous team.
At the top of the order, Messrs Alex Hales and Luke Ronchi provide the kind of launching pad most captains can only dream of. The two have the highest T20 strike-rates of any opener for the past couple of years, making them the two most destructive batsmen around. Add South African JP Duminy to the mix and you have a top three as ominous as any assembled in the PSL; perhaps second only to the Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers triumvirate in the Indian Premier League when it comes to world franchises.
But Islamabad are not only their top three. A whole host of players who can star in more than one role follow the trio. Any team would feel the departure of one of T20 cricket’s most sought-after all-rounder in Andre Russell but United have more than enough all-rounders in their roster to more than cover up for it.
The likes of Duminy, Amad Butt, Hussain Talat, Faheem Ashraf, Shadab Khan and Samit Patel ensure Islamabad can have multiple options with the ball while also playing a very deep batting line. In fact, there are scenarios in which United can have Muhammad Sami as the only ‘tailender’ in the side while also playing seven players more than capable of bowling in a T20.
The loss of vice-captain Rumman Raees is also a huge blow to the side but even without their star pacer Islamabad have the arsenal to go all the way once again.
Samuel Badree, Zafar Gohar, Samit Patel and Duminy can all provide backup to the incredible Shadab in the spin department.
Pulling the strings is one of Pakistan’s finest-ever puppet masters. Misbahul Haq has made a living out of making ordinary players commit extraordinary deeds.
And it is no fluke that Islamabad can upon some of the best local talent around in Rumman, Faheem, Talat, Shadab and Sahibzada Farhan. By paying particular attention to good scouting and prioritising balance within the squad, the capital side have established in place a system that doesn’t rely on one player but on several. There will be times when they will lose, based on the sheer individual brilliance of their opposition alone, but their system ensures they will never be easy to beat.
With wind in their sails and a bit of everything in their arsenal, Misbahul Haq’s men are becoming a lot of people’s favourite to go all the way once again. Whether that turns out to be the case or not remains to be seen. But right now, it is hard to imagine a more perfect T20 side in the world.
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