• 25 Nov - 01 Dec, 2017
  • Sohaib ALvi
  • Sports

The stage appears set for Pakistan Super League (PSL) to truly become an identity of its own. For long it was an event unlikely to happen given the fullness of the international calendar and the compulsion to have it all staged in Pakistan. That meant no international players other than a partly set of retirees from the bottom of the bottom half of ICC ranking teams.

Today, the PSL franchise owners can ignore Chris Gayle in the auction. Yes, he had two pathetic outings for two different franchises where he was the very antithesis of his batting style. It was even thought by a few that he was deliberately not interested or not loyal to the cause. Some reckoned he was saving himself for the Indian Premier League (IPL) event that was to follow and didn’t want to pull a muscle while straining to hit. Nevertheless, he is still the biggest name in T20 cricket; the only man to cross 10,000 runs in this format. In fact, you would have expected the newest franchise from Multan to gobble him up. But even they left him by the wayside. This was clearly the only time a fit Chris Gayle has not been picked up in an auction, let alone not be among the first choices. It was a clear message to all. Do not take PSL lightly. It has blossomed to rank among the top three; in terms of revenue and audience, maybe just after IPL.

The players’ auction, much as I abhor the method, for it reminds me of slave buying once the poached Africans were offloaded in American ports, did also make its mark on how the franchises are thinking. For instance, Karachi Kings selected Imad Wasim as their captain. For them, the past two PSL’s have had embarrassing results; barely making it to knockout in the first two editions and then disintegrating. They had a different captain each season – Shoaib Malik and Sangakkara; in fact, Ravi Bopara captained a match or two in the first edition replacing the controversial Shoaib Malik.

Going for Imad Wasim this time shows they have opted for a young mind rather than the experienced ones that couldn’t lift the side in the last two attempts. Imad has played a wealth of T20 and has consistently been among the top bowlers in this format globally. He is also the vice-captain of the Pakistan T20 side, so it allows him to hone his skills when he has to lead on the day Sarfaraz is not available. Perhaps PCB may have had something to do with the decision. If they didn’t, then at least they would be happy with the arrangement.

The Kings fans will wait breathlessly to see how Mohammad Amir pairs up with Mitchell Johnson who will be making his PSL debut. On paper, it is a dream pair but fans should know that both carry some baggage. Except for the burst that ricked India in the Champions Trophy final, Amir had leaked runs and not taken the wickets he was expected to. Johnson has had few moments of joy since retiring from T20 Internationals in 2013. One came recently though. Playing for Perth Scorchers in the semi-final against Melbourne Stars in Big Bash, Johnson produced the most economical bowling in BBL’s history with 3/3 from 4 overs. In fact, his first 17 deliveries conceded no run.

After the embarrassing controversy that hit Islamabad United when their two top batsmen, Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif were sent back for suspected spot fixing after the very first game, they have been cautious in their selection, not even retaining Mohammad Irfan who continued to play PSL2 under the shadow of suspicion and was eventually banned for six months. The tall pace bowler, whom Virat Kohli has ranked among the top bowlers to trouble him, has gone to his native Multan, the sixth and newest franchise. They also don’t have Wasim Akram in the management as he has gone for the new franchise Multan Sultans. Perhaps they have cleaned the deck and want to bring in a completely new feel.

One of those moves has been hiring Waqar Younus as Team Director and bowling coach. With Misbah retained as captain, the equation should work well as both had a good understanding when they were captain and coach of Pakistan. Unfortunately, the combination couldn’t get results as the Pakistani selection was thought too conservative, even prejudiced.

However, bringing in JP Duminy into the Islamabad side is not exactly the sparkle that should have replaced Sharjeel and Khalid. Perhaps Hussain Talat will get more opportunities at the top along with Luke Ronchi.

Quetta Gladiators have stuck with their core team; in fact, the transition of Shane Watson from Islamabad United and the induction of Carlos Brathwaite (the man who last year hit four sixes off the first four balls of the last over of the World T20 to win the final for West Indies) excites even more.

There has been controversy surrounding the selection of the young Azam Khan as a supplementary player. He is of course the son of Moin Khan who is coach of Quetta Gladiators. Many feel it is parochialism and absolute nepotism. He has not given any outstanding performance in his brief career and other aspiring youngsters deserved a chance to shine at PSL ahead of him. Names of Awais Zia and M. Saad were floated as more deserving. And as someone tweeted “(Was) not a single player from Balochistan capable enough to be in supplementary pick of Quetta Gladiators?” A very valid question, indeed.

However, Nadeem Omar was categorical in saying that he picked Azam and not Moin because Azam had played a couple of sterling knocks for Omar Associates in Ramzan tournaments. In fact, he likened him to Chris Gayle and said he was a clean hitter of the ball. So we may just be seeing a new star emerging in PSL3.

Peshawar Zalmis, of course, have the enterprising Darren Sammy and not too different a squad from last year. Except Dwayne Bravo, who couldn’t make it to PSL2 because of injury, is now with Zalmis to further their middle order strength. They will be defending champions and seem stronger than last year.

Lahore Qalandars have a point to prove this season. Despite experienced and talented cricketers, they finished bottom of both PSL events. They’ve brought in the Aussie hard hitter Chris Lynn whereas Angelo Mathews and Mitchell McClenaghan will be available for few games. Unless they play out of their skin, it looks like another tough season for them.

Of course, the apple of everyone’s eye will be the newest kids on the block, Multan Sultans. They’ve pulled in Shoaib Malik and Kumar Sangakkara from Karachi and Ahmed Shahzad from Quetta even though the three failed to make much mark in previous editions. Yet both have potential and with Kieron Pollard in the lower order, they have bog strikers of the ball and more importantly, able finishers.

They will rely on Irfan, Junaid Khan and Imran Tahir to strike as they have not too many others in their armoury, only Umar Gul and Mohammad Abbas followed by filler like Pollard. With Wasim Akram as their Team Director and former Australian cricketer and coach Tom Moody their head coach, I’m sure the bowlers will get tremendous tips and insightful advice.

The PSL had already shown in its very first season that it can stand on its own feet. Now with PSL3 bigger than before, they seem ready to run with the best. •