Dubai: The curtains on the third edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) goes up on Thursday at the Dubai International Stadium with a host of the star players, who have transformed Twenty20 format into the most exciting form of the game, ready for action.
It will be a clash of the ‘sixers’ this time with the entry of Multan Sultans as the new sixth team. The reputation of this tournament has skyrocketed after Pakistan lifted the Champions Trophy last year, thanks to the audacious display of some of the youngsters that surfaced through this league. The tournament is bound to throw up more youngsters this year too with many local players with amazing talent, who have been picked up by talent-spotters for the different teams from some of the remotest areas of Pakistan.
Though defending champions Peshawar Zalmi’s captain Darren Sammy jokingly remarked during the unveiling of the trophy that “all teams are coming for my title”, it remains a fact. All six teams are filled with such top class players that it is hard to pick the best or the weakest from among the lot.
Peshawar has got the right players to defend their title, but a lot will depend on their opening match against debutants Multan Sultans on Thursday. What makes their challenge tough is the fact that Multan, led by Shoaib Malek, is a formidable team with players like Kieron Pollard, Kumar Sangakkara, Imran Tahir, Darren Bravo and three fine pacers in Sohail Tanvir, Mohammad Irfan and Junaid Khan.
Peshawar is filled with Pakistan’s star players like Kamran Akmal, who is the tournament’s highest scorer, the experienced Mohammad Hafeez, highest wicket-taker in Wahab Riaz and young Hasan Ali. As if that is not enough, they also have West Indies all-rounder Dwayne Bravo, Bangladesh stars Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hassan.
Like the above two teams, the remaining four outfits are also packed with experienced players who have shown their calibre in international cricket. Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmad, who leads two-time finalists Quetta Gladiators, are hoping to be third time lucky. They have explosive batsmen like Kevin Pietersen, Shane Watson, Jason Roy, Rilee Rossouw and Carlos Brathwaite — backed by Pakistan’s Asad Shafiq. In the first practice match held at ICC Academy they even defeated champions Peshawar.
Islamabad United, first-time winners of the PSL are led by Misbah-ul-Haq, the most experienced among Pakistan captains. The team has undergone a major change with their coach Wasim Akram leaving and joining Multan Sultans. However, they have bounced back by appointing another great pacer in Waqar Younis as their coach. Though they have specialists like J.P. Duminy, Andre Russell and Samuel Badree, they also have the young and talented Pakistan players Ruman Raees and Shadab Khan in the squad.
Lahore Qalandars, led by Brendon McCullum, are determined to produce their best this year. The team is coached by Aaqib Javed, who as former UAE national team coach knows the conditions here very well, and has an explosive bunch of players including Fakhar Zaman, Yasir Shah, Umar Akmal, Sunil Narine and Chris Lynn in the squad. Many expect this squad to turn the tables on the favourites.
Karachi Kings, led by young Imad Wasim, is a squad made up of match-winners including ‘Boom Boom’ Shahid Afridi. They also have a potent pace attack in Mohammad Amir, Australian veteran Mitchell Johnson, England’s fine all-rounder Ravi Bopara and consistent Babar Azam.
So at the PSL gets underway, all we can say is let the fireworks begin ...