The second edition of the Pakistan Super League kick-starts in February 2017 and Shruti Chopra and Suneer Chowdhary preview this competition. Here’s a lowdown on the Pakistan Super League predictions & analysis.
Let’s start with the Karachi Kings and I know you spoke of their side as one of the frontrunners in this edition…why do you reckon that would be the case?
I will get to that…but two things surprise me about the Karachi Kings and neither is to do with the squad or the franchise itself. One, I really wonder why would the Lahore Qalandars want to give away Chris Gayle and not retain him, thereby allowing the Kings to go for him.
Secondly, the bookmakers have the Kings down as the least favourite to win the title which is something I find hard to believe – a team that has Gayle, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene among those from overseas, lest I forget the man of the tournament from the inaugural edition of PSL, Ravi Bopara, who finished with second-highest runs and sixth-highest number of wickets last season.
Look, I understand Sangakkara did not have a great Big Bash League season but those were different kinds of pitches. He should be more at home in UAE where the surfaces will be slower…
And their domestic talent looks like it’s brimming too?
No doubt about that. With former Pakistan captain Shoaib Malik showing good form for Pakistan, he will be joined by Babar Azam, who is one of the more talented Pakistan batsmen (Kohli reference), left-arm spinner Imad Wasim and fast bowler Mohammad Amir as their domestic cricketers. That makes me want to put them as one of the frontrunners to go the distance…
…which is an answer to the first question too I suppose. Anyone else in particular who catches your eye?
The one other player to watch out will be the 27-year-old, former Pakistani cricketer Shahzaib Hasan who finished the National T20 competition last year with 344 runs at 43 and a strike-rate of 132.
Right, then straight on to the Lahore Qalandars, what are your first impressions about their side?
I will repeat what I said during the Karachi Kings stint…look I understand that Gayle did not have the best PSL season for the Qalandars and they needed to make some changes to overcome their bottom finish last season but the Jamaican is a match-winner of his own. Once he adapts to the pitches in UAE, he could well get on a roll and even guide the side to the playoffs on his own.
No doubt about that, and we have seen what he has done at the Royal Challengers Bangalore as well…
We have…and interestingly, Gayle wasn’t picked through the auction in 2009, just came through as a replacement cricketer and the rest, as they say, is history!
Without Gayle around, do they still have the kind of firepower needed in such a tournament?
Well, this is not to say that the Qalandars are short of star power, as they do have Brendon McCullum leading the way for them and we all saw what he did during the Big Bash League, guiding his Brisbane Heat side to the semi-finals…but what he will need is a lot of support from the likes of Jason Roy and Umar Akmal in the batting and Sohail Tanvir and Sunil Narine with the ball.
Roy has shown what he is capable of on flat surfaces but will be interesting to see how he goes on the slower UAE pitches while Akmal has done more than his bat at the domestic level. Narine was the fifth-best bowler in the Big Bash League, finishing with 13 wickets at less than 20 and on pitches that did not assist his style of bowling – which makes him an even potent force for the Qalandars.
Any worries for Lahore?
What the Qalandars could be wary of is that the likes of Roy and Narine might take off for their national commitments before the tournament gets to the playoffs stage, making it slightly tougher for the side…and that’s something the management will need to look at closely moving into the tournament.
Now, the third team for discussion is Peshawar Zalmi – Shahid Afridi handing over the captaincy to Darren Sammy before the tournament, that was quite a thing!
The Zalmis could be one of the most followed sides in the competition given the presence of Shahid Afridi, and it was quite a gesture for him to give up on the captaincy and hand it over to Darren Sammy, also speaking of the respect that the rest of the world had for the West Indian even if his own board did not…but whether gestures like these play a part in winning titles, one doesn’t really know. More importantly, those two all-rounders will need to perform with both, the bat and the ball for their side to push the competition away…
A quick rundown on what you make of the Zalmis?
The Zalmis have lost the services of Alex Hales, who got injured during England’s tour of India, and Afghan batsman-keeper Mohammad Shahzad, who opted out of the tournament, while Shakib al Hasan might not be available for the entire season, which leaves them a tad handicapped. The good news is that England speedster Chris Jordan seems to have regained some of his touch and he hasn’t been picked for England’s tour of West Indies, while Mohammad Hafeez, Wahab Riaz and Junaid Khan can all play their part with the ball too…
…no mention of their batting?
That’s my concern…in fact my main concern for the Zalmis is their domestic batting. Look, there are the likes of Eoin Morgan, Dilshan, Marlon Samuels, Tamim Iqbal and even Andre Fletcher, a look through their player-list and I don’t see too many domestic cricketers who can run away with the game with the bat, so that’s something they will be wary of. Teams can have a maximum of four overseas players and I assuming Sammy will take up one spot, which could put some pressure on their selection tactics.
The next team in the line-up is Quetta Gladiators, they made the final last season after having finished second in the league table as well…
A good team, and a tad underrated as well. They will be led by Sarfaraz Ahmed, a man they are tipping will take over from Misbah-ul-Haq and Azhar Ali as Test match and ODI captain respectively which speaks volumes about how well he’s rated in the cricketing circles.
And what do you make of the Gladiators batting?
As far as their batting is concerned, Ahmed Shehzad, Kevin Pietersen and Luke Wright can be expected to lead the charts much like last season. Pietersen had a good Big Bash League season recently, and despite what Aussie coach Darren Lehmann has had to say about him, he can still turn t20 games around with the bat.
On the other hand, there is Asad Shafiq who is yet to cement his white-ball credential, but could still play the kind of role that someone like Joe Root plays in T20 cricket for England.
You had recently spoken of Tymal Mills as someone you wanted to watch…he will be playing for Quetta? How’s the rest of the bowling for them?
Mills has been impressive in the T20Is against India too but overall, the Gladiators will be relying on their spinners more than anyone else to do the job. There’s Zulfiqar Babar and Mohammad Nawaz, who between them shared 22 wickets last season…and add someone like a Nathan McCullum and/or Bangladesh offie Mahmudullah, they could really tie opposition up.
Veteran Pakistan bowling Umar Gul would be hoping for a solid comeback, Anwar Ali should be a shoo-in to the XI and might be joined Mills which should cover all their bases if the surfaces turn flat overnight.
Interesting to see if the UAE surfaces can really become that batting friendly, given the kind of scores that were on display last PSL season…moving on to Islamabad United, like the look of them?
Misbah-ul-Haq will lead the Islamabad United side yet again after taking them to a stunning title victory last year, he will hope for an encore. More vitally, Misbah wants to give himself time till the end of the PSL to decide on his international future and an early departure from the competition could also be an indicator of what the Test match captain wants…
The United squad is one that has broken norms to field a very experienced squad – there’s the obvious sprinkling of youth but look at their main players and it’s full of those who have been around for a while – apart from the captain himself, there’s Shane Watson, Samuel Badree, Brad Haddin, Dwayne Smith, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Irfan and even someone like Andre Russell, who might not be too old but has played in 232 Twenty20 games in his career. The big news there is that Russell has been given a one-year ban for a doping code violation so that might hit their chances a bit…
Yes, that was quite a shocker…and they have brought in Steven Finn I hear..
Well, they would have liked someone like a Ben Stokes or even Mitchell Johnson but I am not sure either of them were available to play…there were also Albie Morkel, Jason Holder, Wayne Parnell – none of them are in the same T20 class as Russell but can all do a job.
Finn is an interesting choice…he is quite a bunny as a batsman, and last played for England in August 2015. Even his performance in the previous edition of the NatWest T20 Blast wasn’t quite earth-shattering – four wickets in six games at 33 and an economy of 8.25. Islamabad United are expecting a lot out of him…
What about the rest of the squad?
Saeed Ajmal might be spent force as far as his international career is concerned, but that remodelled action has allowed him to pick up wickets at the domestic level – he grabbed 20 wickets in the National T20 Cup at a measely average of 11 and an economy-rate of 6.28.
Among the younger guns, Sam Billings looks like quite a surety in the playing XI if Russell misses out while Ben Duckkett could join in once Billings leaves on national duty – both are absolute punishers of the white ball and should add a lot of chutzpah (khutzpah) to the batting.
And your PSL 2017 Prediction?
Not an easy proposition calling out a winner at the start of the tournament, given the so many variables and team changes and so on…but at this stage I am inclined to say that at least one of Lahore Qalandars or Karachi Kings will make the final this year.