PSL 2023 preview: Taking stock on the day of big kickoff
This is the year of the 50-over international World Cup and so the 20-over domestic tournament eight months before the big event may well determine who fills a few of the spots up for grabs in the Pakistan team.
If you think that is strange, then well we live in strange times indeed and Pakistan has always had the capability of existing in bizarro world at even the most stable of times.
This might lend itself to an extra feisty tournament this time around with several interesting team and individual battles to look forward to. Teams like Lahore and Islamabad have stuck to their guns while the winds of change blow in Peshawar and Karachi. Here’s a look at the six teams that battle it out for PSL8.
Many are finding it difficult to warm up to Imad Wasim’s side, especially with genuine superstars Muhammad Rizwan, Babar Azam and Alex Hales being allowed to leave in recent years despite their championship-winning exploits alongside plucky and lovable characters such as Umaid Asif, Waqas Maqsood and Arshad Iqbal.
Divisive characters such as Muhammad Amir and Shoaib Malik, along Imad himself, make Kings the team most neutrals will be cheering against but that can always bring a group together and spur them on even more.
The Kings seem to have chosen players on both sides of the career spectrum. More than half the squad is over the age of 30, so they are banking especially hard on experience, which is never a bad thing to have around. Skipper Imad, 34, can field a team in which he is only the 5th oldest member of the side, while Amir is the youngest (those really were the times, weren’t they? I’ll wait till you’re back from watching clips of young Amir bowl). They may not be a 17-year-old Amir bursting onto the scene, but the Kings have some genuinely exciting youngsters in Musa Khan, Haider Ali, and Qasim Akram, all of whom will know that an exceptional tournament gives them at least an outside chance of making the World Cup squad. The Kings will certainly be pinning some of their hopes on the genuine attacking threat of the explosive trio.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. They have bagged the big one ladies and gentlemen, THE star turn. Babar Azam will wear the yellow of Peshawar Zalmi and will make his debut as skipper. Babar has few things left to prove as he enters the peak years of his career, but he may have a point to make to his critics, journalists, and former Kings teammates, some of whom he had a less than frosty relationship with.
Peshawar have historically boasted some of PSL’s most formidable pace batteries, but now they seem a little thin in the bowling department. Former skipper Wahab Riaz is still the pace spearhead at 37 but he just cannot generate the pace he once could. Usman Qadir, Salman Irshad, Aamer Jamal and Arshad Iqbal have all shown promise in their still young careers, but inconsistency still plagues them. They have 21-year-old Afghanistan spin wizard Mujeebur Rehman, but he is not available for the entirety of the tournament.
The batting line-up is good enough to be the envy of many a franchise side, with the class of Babar Azam and Haris Sohail being complimented by the sheer destructive ability of Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Muhammad Haris, Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Jimmy Neesham to name a few. Peshawar Zalmi may well have some of the highest scoring matches in the tournament.
Well scratch that last line. If Peshawar have taken the “we will just bat the other side out of the game” route then they will find Islamabad United’s well-worn footprints all over these paths.
The only side that has the potential to consistently outscore Peshawar, and then some, is Shadab Khan’s United. There isn’t much to add to the fact that Shadab has Alex Hales, Sohaib Maqsood, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Asif Ali, Azam Khan, Paul Stirling, Colin Munro, Moeen Ali and Rassie van der Dussen to choose from. That is more firepower than most international teams and every bowler in the league will be at least slightly intimidated by the sheer destructive ability of that line-up.
Islamabad have kept the blueprint of what has worked for them in the past and will rely once again on aggressive batting from numbers one to eleven. Their batters go out there and express themselves, safe in the knowledge that if they fall, then the United hydra will simply grow another head and the next batsman will just carry on with the same intent. Islamabad give opposition bowlers neither any moment of respite nor any place to hide.
The trick is to pair those attacking batsmen with wonderfully capable all-rounders to provide balance and batting depth like no other. Shadab, one of the finest all-rounders in the world, can also count on Faheem Ashraf, Tom Curran, and Ali to contribute with both bat and ball, while bowlers Muhammad Wasim Jr, Hasan Ali and Zafar Gohar are no mugs with the bat either.
All that batting firepower always leaves the Islamabad United bowling seeming a little underwhelming and that is once again the case. That has not stopped them from winning multiple titles in the past though and it would take a brave or foolish man to bet against them this time around as well.
The perennial underachievers may well have been the last team to win the tournament, but they go into this tournament as the defending champions. Their obvious strength lies in their bowling, and having the trio of Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf and Rashid Khan in the same team almost seems downright unfair. Dilbar Hussain, Zaman Khan and Liam Dawson have all won PSL matches in the past with their canny bowling, while Hussain Talat, David Wiese and Sikandar Raza can turn their arm as well.
Lahore seem to have placed most of their eggs in their bowling basket though, with a lot of responsibility placed on Fakhar Zaman’s shoulders. The likes of Kamran Ghulam, Talat and Raza can all bat but none of them strike fear in the opposition bowlers like some of the names on other batting sheets do. Wiese is a finisher extraordinaire with the bat on his day, but Sam Billings and Kusal Mendis will both miss matches and that leaves Lahore’s batting looking pretty thin. Then again, how many runs do you even need when you have Afridi, Rauf and Rashid in the same team?
Muhammad Rizwan would have been much more confident of his side’s ability to win their second PSL title if he could have relied on David Miller, Tim David, and Adil Rashid for the entirety of the tournament. Instead, he will have to chop and change as those three genuine superstars of the game come and go, with Akeal Hosein, Wayne Parnell and Izharulhaq Naveed also only available for limited time.
All of this chopping and changing can impact the dressing room but the players that form the mainstay of the side have some serious experience between them and would be more than capable of handling the situation. The likes of Anwar Ali, Keiron Pollard, and Rilee Rossouw have been around for a long time and have seen and done almost everything T20 cricket has to throw at them.
Rizwan is a shoo-in for the limited-overs side but the quartet of Shan Masood, Shahnawaz Dahani, Khushdil Shah and Usama Mir can all harbour hopes of getting international opportunities to stake their claim in the side before the World Cup if they perform well at the tournament. That’s not a bad extra motivation to have.
Quetta’s star has been attached to that of former skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed’s right from the first tournament and the two have followed similar trajectories. To begin with, they took the tournament by storm. Canny operators punching way above their weight, defeating much better teams on paper with wit and hardwork. Since then, both Sarfaraz and Quetta have dropped off a level as body and mind tire.
Yet Sarfaraz has shown recently that you write him off at your own peril and the same can be said about this Quetta side. In Naseem Shah, Wanindu Hasaranga and Jason Roy, they have three genuinely world class match-winners, and you can bet your bottom dollar Sarfaraz will once again extract more out of Muhammad Nawaz and Muhammad Hasnain than anyone else is able to. Will Smeed and Will Jacks are two exciting English youngsters who know these conditions, while Martin Guptill is never a bad player to have around.
Oh, and they also have Umar Akmal so some Umar Akmal-shaped entertainment may take place as well at some point or the other during the tournament.