• 03 Mar - 09 Mar, 2018
  • Sohaib ALvi
  • Sports

They were the newest kids on the block. Or were they? With Shoaib Malik leading them and backed up by Kumar Sangakkara, Darren Bravo, Ahmed Shahzad, Kieron Pollard, Imran Tahir, Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan, perhaps it was not out of the question that they would lead the table after their third game. That low scoring game under overcast conditions was lost when they were in a winning position with Islamabad United on 63-5 chasing 113 but they had done enough to finish in the top two among the six teams by the time Karachi Kings defeated last year’s champion Peshawar Zalmis later on Sunday night and went to the top of the table.

It has been a rousing start nonetheless, with much happening. The opening ceremony may not have been extraordinary with a weak script for the anchors but there were enough pyrotechnics, special effects and songs to excite those who witnessed it; in the stadium, on television and through live streaming.

Yes, the world has become a smaller place and often, there is not much that happens in an opening ceremony at this level of event that is innovative. For that you have to go to an Olympics held in the Far East. As such the time, effort and budget could not accumulate 5000 drones as the South Koreans could to make sportsmen in the night sky. But they did have the likes of Pakistani singing icons Ali Zafar, Abida Perveen and Shahzad Roy to rouse up the evening.

Indeed, Ali excited everyone, singing Rockstar, as he rode the night sky on a large skateboard through the help of wires that normally hold up the SkyCam, while Shahzad Roy and Jason Derulo (with his global hit Want To Want Me) rocked with their pop numbers. Abida Parveen, the queen of sufi music, rolled out her classics Chal Uth Bulleya Othay Chaliye, Chaiti Aaveen Vey Tabeebaan and Dama Dam Mast Qalandar. And her Laal Meri Pat was accompanied by swirling dervishes.

And though the Indian players are banned from playing in PSL, the Bollywood stars do sneak in now and then. One of them on opening night was actor Sanjay Kapoor, brother of actor Anil Kapoor, who was in Dubai and had accepted an invitation by Zalmis owner Javed Afridi, to come over.

Still, it was the opening game that set the tone of PSL3. And when Shoaib Malik hit the winning run, the newcomers, Multan Sultans, had overcome the defending champions Peshawar Zalmis at full strength. Perhaps Abida Parveen’s Sufi music had had its effect on the team that hails from the very icon of Sufiism.

Multan Sultan were sitting second in the table after the opening weekend with no more games to play till Friday, 2nd March. The table will, of course, change rankings frequently till the last four are decided, but already Lahore Qalandars are struggling and seemingly destined to remain bottom of the table till March 2, as even if they have won over Karachi on Monday night, their net run rate of -2.419 should be pulling them down. They have made the same miserable start as they did in the first two editions. They had lost both their games by Sunday and were sitting at the bottom with no points and a negative run rate.

But to come back to Multan Sultan; they have performed well as a team and certainly look the more vibrant and cohesive of the six teams. The coaches of their rival teams were perhaps expecting that since the players were either new, like Imran Tahir, or coming from other teams (Ahmed Shahzad from Quetta Gladiators, Kumar Sangakkara and Kieron Pollard from Karachi Kings), the team would take time to understand each other.

But the Sultans have gelled well and their bowling after four days of the league has proven to be the most penetrative. Imran Tahir has the lowest bowling average (7 wickets in 3 games at 11.85) among the spinners and Mohammad Irfan (5 wickets in 3 games at 12.40) rests among the top 5. Not far behind is Junaid Khan with 5 wickets in 3 games at 14.80.

On the batting front, Shoaib Malik, also captain of Multan Sultan, shares (with Dwayne Smith of Zalmis) the first position in batting averages with one of 62.50 following 125 runs in 3 games; he, however, has a higher strike rate (132. 97) than Smith.

Sangakkara is not far behind with an average of 42.00 with 126 runs in 3 games and the third highest strike rate with 126 among all batsmen with 70 runs or more in 3 games.

Of course, there have been some fascinating performances and happenings in the league. There has been Junaid Khan taking a hat-trick that led to a Lahore Qalandars collapse, as they lost their last seven wickets for just four runs to fold meekly for 136 in response to Multan Sultan’s 179-5.

Then, there was Umaid Asif who took 4-23 in 4 overs against Islamabad. Interestingly, Umaid came into the Zalmi’s side after Hassan Ali’s injury. It was the 33 year old’s PSL debut and he tore into the United’s top order, picking up two wickets each in his first two overs. His victims included two top ranked foreign players Chadwick Walton, Luke Ronchi and two local high scorers, Asif Ali and Iftikhar Ahmed to reduce Islamabad to 25 for 4 in four overs. He could have become the first bowler in PSL’s short history to grab 5 wickets had Tamim Iqbal not dropped Faheem Ashraf at third man off what was Umaid’s final ball of his spell.

On the fielding front, the spectacular catch by Shahid Afridi will remain in the memory for years. Stretching out his right hand right on the long on boundary, he first managed to clutch the skier. Then, as the momentum was taking him beyond the rope, he just managed to throw up the ball and caught it again, skipping back to mark the completion with his typical outstretched hands and feet. There have been some spectacular takes of this kind in recent years but this one by Afridi certainly ranks among the top.

In fact, Afridi’s transfer to Karachi Kings has certainly helped change the fortunes of the team’s side. In each of the first two editions, they were in bad shape after just two games. But in PSL3, they have won both their games by Sunday and topped the group going into their clash with Lahore Qalandars.

And yet the darling of the crowds has been the young Ibtisam Sheikh. The 19-year old leg spinner has settled down in the limelight like a duck to water and his line and length has been impressive. There doesn’t seem to be any nervousness in his demeanour and such was his confidence that he ran back himself to take the skier for his first wicket in PSL. In the match against Islamabad United, he took 3 for 20 and by Sunday had taken 5 wickets in 3 games at 15.20.

To be sure, the PSL is throwing up talent like nothing before it. In pre-PSL years players like Shadab Hassan and Rumman Raees may not have played as early as they did for Pakistan. Now, there is likelihood of Umaid Asif and Ibtisam Sheikh making a tour, and who knows, even playing for Pakistan. •