Sports

Pakistan Super League 2018 kicks off today – here’s what’s in store

Once again, it is that time of the year when every countryman comes together under the festivity of cricket. Tonight, the Pakistan Super League (PSL) returns for a third year, looking to be bigger and better.
Bigger in the literal sense, with more matches being played through the tournament by virtue of a new team, making it six teams in total.
The league will span across Dubai and Sharjah before shifting to Pakistan for the final leg. In more titillating news, Lahore fans will get to witness double thrill this time with two eliminators being staged at the Gaddafi Stadium.
The cherry on top, however, is the venue for the grand finale: National Stadium, Karachi. The City of Lights is gearing up to host the spectacle and preparations are in full swing.
Multan Sultans
The Multan Sultans are the newest feather in the PSL cap, bought by the UAE-based real-estate company Schon Properties for $5.2 million.
A vibrant city brimming with culture, history, and passion for cricket, the Sultans are just the perfect bolt of new energy the PSL needed.
For their maiden run, the Sultans have assembled a sharp looking squad to be led by T20 veteran Shoaib Malik.
On the batting bench, they have openers Ahmed Shehzad and Shan Masood, Kumar Sangakkara, Kieron Pollard and Multan’s very own, Sohaib Maqsood.
Leading the bowling will be Sohail Tanvir, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan, Imran Tahir, and Umar Gul.
To make sure they have all the areas covered, Multan Sultans have brought in the Sultan of Swing Wasim Akram as Director Cricket Operations.
This is quite a strategic move, considering Akram’s salient role in the PSL and his previous experience as Islamabad United’s mentor.
Although the Sultans have managed to rope in some catchy names and adopted a lucrative pre-tournament marketing strategy, it is impossible to ignore the challenge ahead of them: competing with seasoned franchises.
Peshawar Zalmi
Defending champions Peshawar Zalmi will be firm favourites to retain their title under the leadership of Darren Sammy.
The squad appears sharp once again with the likes of Hassan Ali, Mohammad Hafeez, Shakib al-Hassan, Tamim Iqbal, Dwayne Bravo and others ready to set the field afire.
Their star names Kamran Akmal and Wahab Riaz played key roles last season in taking Zalmi to the top. However, the team is missing its biggest bait Shahid Afridi, whose absence could upset the apple cart this season.
Only time will tell how Peshawar Zalmi, who were until last season synonymous with the name Shahid Afridi, will fare on the field without him.
Quetta Gladiators
The Gladiators enter this season sporting the most consistent track record in the league. Last year, they rocketed to the final for the second time in a row, only to lose the trophy to Zalmi in an anti-climatic final.
This year, they have brought in Shane Watson to fill that genuine all-rounder gap in the middle order. Among their key players this year are captain Sarfraz Ahmed, Kevin Pietersen, Rilee Rossouw, Asad Shafiq, and Mohammad Nawaz.
Interestingly, the Gladiators are carrying three captains in the side, Sarfraz Ahmed (Pakistan), Hassan Khan (Pakistan Under-19) and Carlos Brathwaite (West Indies T20). Let’s see if Quetta can take it one step further this time.
Islamabad United
United surprised all in the first edition by playing commendable T20 cricket under the leadership of Misbah Ul Haq and winning the tournament. In the second year, their fortunes were not so great.
Coming season, United have released two big names, Shane Watson and Mohammad Irfan, while Andre Russell makes a comeback after a year-long ban.
They have a solid bowling attack in Samuel Badree, Shadab Khan, Rumman Raees and Mohammad Sami; while their batting options also look good with captain Misbah Ul Haq, Luke Ronchi, Sam Billings and JP Duminy.
United have also scouted batsman Sahibzada Farhan whose recent domestic performances have turned many heads. It will be interesting to see what playing combinations captain Misbah and mentor Waqar Younis conjure up this season.
Lahore Qalandars
The Qalandars have failed to make any progress in the last couple of years much to the dismay of their colossal fan-base. They finished last in the points table twice in a row as their tactical plans failed to elicit results.
They will once again be counting on their star picks Brendon Mccullum, Umar Akmal, Sunil Narine, Fakhar Zaman, and Yasir Shah. Among new additions are Australian batsman Chris Lynn and left-handed Mustafizur Rehman.
The difference for Qalandars this year could be the teenage sensation Shaheen Shah Afridi, whose record bowling made headlines in the recent Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.
Another exciting prospect for Lahore this year is having Shoaib Akhtar mentor the side, a move which could nudge the team into a new direction.
Karachi Kings
The Kings have experimented with quite a few captains, the newest being Imad Wasim. Another surprise in the Karachi dug-out is Shahid Afridi, whose presence and experience could positively influence the team’s dressing room.
PSL 2018 preview: Will the under-achieving Karachi Kings do better under Imad Wasim?
Among other key players this season are Mohammad Amir, Babar Azam, Ravi Bopara, and Eoin Morgan as a supplementary player. England pacer Tymal Mills will also feature in the squad after replacing Mitchell Johnson.
Last season, the Kings jumped up one place from their dismal inaugural stint by finishing third. Let’s see if a new captain and Shahid Afridi can be their recipe for success this year.