Imran Tahir, center, of Multan Sultan celebrates a dismissal of Karachi Kings' batsman during the Pakistan Super League T20 cricket match in Multan, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudhry)
Imran Tahir (centre), of Multan Sultan, celebrates a dismissal of Karachi Kings batsman during the Pakistan Super League T20 match in Multan, Pakistan in end-February. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: Multan Sultan, which finished as table-toppers after the league stages in Pakistan Super League (PSL), could have been awarded the title for 2020, according to Azhar Mahmood, former Pakistan allrounder and their bowling coach. The T20 league, one of the last few sporting events to be called off due to the coronavirus pandemic, was called off hours before the semi-finals scheduled to be played last week.

Mahmood, who has been there and done that as a player and then part of the support staff in franchise leagues around the world including the Indian Premier League (IPL), joined issue with veteran allrounder Shahid Afridi’s call that Multan deserved to be conferred the title after the sudden cancellation of the league. ‘‘I am in agreement with Shahid Afridi regarding his idea of awarding the title to the table-toppers, Multan Sultan. The fact is that each of the sides had played 10 games at the time when the tournament was stopped. Given that all teams had played equal games and no further matches were possible, Afridi’s suggestion makes a lot of sense.

‘‘It’s a fair call in my view as Multan Sultan were far ahead of the other sides at 14 points and if the PSL is not able to resume then handing the title to us would be the right thing to do. This would be same as in the case where semi-final or final games are washed out due to rain, in such cases the team with the highest points would be declared winners,’’ he observed in a signed article in

There was a buzz in some quarters if the PSL had stretched itself a bit too long even when other major sporting events were getting called off from the first week of March, but Mahmood felt that the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) had taken the call at the right time.

‘‘As always, hindsight is 20/20 and those criticising the PCB for waiting too long to postpone the tournament are being unfair. There were a few cases of Coronavirus in Pakistan initially and the PCB took this decision at the right time. They first stopped crowds from attending the games and then as further information became available and with the advice from Punjab and Sindh governments took the decision to postpone the tournament. To their credit, PCB acted immediately to get all involved in the tournament tested; thankfully all tests have come back negative which is a huge relief for all of us,’’ he observed.

It was an incredible sight to see enthusiastic fans lining the streets as we travelled to the ground and back and let me tell you, I have only seen that before in India when I played for KKR (Kolkata Knight Riders) in the IPL

- Azhar Mahmood

The spiralling of coronavirus, particularly over March, actually overshadowed the credit which PCB deserved in the first place for deciding to stage the fifth edition of the tournament fully at home after having split it over the UAE and their home country for the past four years.

‘‘The fact that such a high-quality tournament was played in Pakistan was great news for all of us. It was great to see full houses in Multan and Rawalpindi and the atmosphere was absolutely brilliant, especially in our home ground. It was an incredible sight to see enthusiastic fans lining the streets as we travelled to the ground and back and let me tell you, I have only seen that before in India when I played for KKR (Kolkata Knight Riders) in the IPL, and never before in Pakistan,’’ wrote Mahmood, who plied his trade in IPL on the merit of being a British passport holder even after the ban on Pakistan players there after the 2008 edition.

Shaheen Shah Afridi is one of the best fast bowling talents coming out of Pakistan in recent years, according to Azhar Mahmood. Image Credit: Gulf News archive

Turning his attention on the embarrassment of riches of fast bowling talent in Pakistan, Mahmood reserved special praise for the gangly Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah. ‘‘I have always said that to me, he (Afridi) is one of the best young fast bowlers Pakistan has at the moment. I am glad that my view has not been proven wrong based upon the way he is currently bowling. I feel that he is a special bowler, but we need to take care of him and more importantly, he needs to look after himself too,’’ Mahmood observed.

He also has a word of advice for the young Naseem Shah, who made headlines since making his Test debut as a precocious 16-year-old against Australia last year. Pointing out at Naseem’s vulnerability to injuries, Mahmood suggested: ‘‘It’s a well-known fact that younger bowlers are prone to injuries and this is not something that Naseem Shah is prone to specifically. We saw that in the earlier days of their careers, even Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis suffered injuries. This is because the body of a young bowler is still getting used to the workload, so chances of sustaining injuries is higher.

‘‘Naseem (Shah) has already had injuries as we saw on the Australia tour and also recently in PSL as well. It’s not always going to be easy for a bowler like Naseem as he bowls around 145 kmph. He will need to be looked after by the PCB and attention needs to be given to his fitness as well. His action does make him a candidate for injury, but I am confident that Waqar Younis as bowling coach of Pakistan and his coaching colleagues will take care of these issues for Naseem. Regardless of this, it’s when Naseem Shah plays more cricket and his body gets used to stresses is when he will become less prone to injury. This is similar to how Shaheen Shah Afridi has progressed, and this is how I expect Naseem to develop in the future as he plays more cricket,’’ he added.