Karachi Kings face eliminators jinx; Peshawar Zalmi want to sustain consistency

Ahead of the PSL 2020, we look at each team’s strength, weaknesses, squads and support staff details.

Karachi Kings

Team overview

For all the talk of Lahore Qalandars woes in the tournament’s history, there is little justification for Karachi Kings to feel any smugness at the travails of their traditional rivals. They’ve bested them in all four seasons – indeed, everyone has – but pretty much all Karachi have done in the PSL so far is stumble through to the playoffs. They’ve never finished in the top two, and have consequently gone on to lose three of the eliminators, with a third place finish in 2017 their biggest achievement to date.

The evidence would suggest they haven’t got the most from their abilities. For the past few years, Karachi have had the services of arguably Pakistan’s best batsman, their best bowler and their best all rounder in Babar Azam, Mohammad Amir and Imad Wasim, who will reprise his role as captain for a third season. This year’s recruitment has seen them pick up experienced – and successful – PSL campaigners, including Chris Jordan, Alex Hales and Cameron Delport, while Sharjeel Khan is back after a two-year absence, and should be hungriest of all to take up the second chance he has been afforded.

Strengths

For all his superlative abilities, Azam is yet to light up a PSL season. Yet it seems impossible that this won’t be that defining season. He comes in on the back of glittering form across formats. In the most recent T20 competition he played, the Vitality T20 Blast, he was top of the run charts, smashing 578 at over 52.5 at a strike rate a smidge under 150. Should he bring that form to this PSL on home soil, he can almost serve as a new signing for the sheer array of brilliance he should sparkle onto this event.

No aspect of the squad stands out as a conspicuous chink in Karachi’s armour. Imad has always been handy with the ball, and if Umer Khan continues to develop at the explosive rate that was in evidence last year, Karachi have a potent spin bowling combination. Studious recruitment has seen them snap up genuine world-class talent like Jordan, who comes fresh off a high-quality T20 series against South Africa. Hales was second on the run charts at the Big Bash, and is a previous PSL winner with Islamabad United. Mohammad Rizwan, meanwhile, has gone from a domestic accumulator to Pakistan’s number one choice as keeper, and that increase in his profile, not to mention the improvement in his batting, should free up another spot for able overseas talent in Karachi’s final eleven.

Weaknesses

Ummm…history? There must be a reason Karachi Kings never appear to be firing on all cylinders at the PSL. At least three of the last four seasons, the only reason they managed to squeak into one of the last play-off spots was the abject ineptitude of Lahore Qalandars. They were shown up immediately by their failure to make much of a splash in the playoffs.

An ageing squad might also be a concern; Umer is the only guaranteed starter under the age of 27, while more than half of the final eleven is almost certain to comprise of people over 30. How Sharjeel, on whom Karachi have taken a bit of a punt, performs is very much up in the air given the lack of relevant recent form to make serious conclusions, and the stalled development of promising players such as Aamer Yamin and Usama Mir does not bode well for a squad already somewhat long in the tooth.

Squad: Sharjeel Khan, Babar Azam, Alex Hales Cameron Delport, Awais Zia, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim (capt), Aamer Yamin, Chris Jordan, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Chadwick Walton (wk), Mohammad Amir, Umaid Asif, Umer Khan, Arshad Iqbal, Ali Khan, Usama Mir, Mitchell McClenaghan

Management staff: Salman Iqbal (owner), Wasim Akram (bowling mentor and President), Dean Jones (head coach), Johan Botha (assistant coach)

Hasan Ali is pumped up after a wicket PSL

Peshawar Zalmi

Overview

Peshawar Zalmi is a T20 franchise done right. In terms of final finishes and performances in the group stage, this is probably the most consistent side in the league. Three of the four seasons have seen Zalmi top the group stage en route to the playoffs, and they’ve made it to the final in the last three seasons. Year in, year out, Zalmi show they are one of the sides to beat, and make it clear doing so will not be easy.

You’d think they value statistics over the eye test, analytics above emotions, and fitness trumps maverick brilliance. And yet, bizarrely, their captain for the past three years is the perpetually injured yet wildly popular Darren Sammy, barely able to break into a jog and generally only good enough for a few lusty blows with the bat at the death. They stuck with Shahid Afridi for longer than the evidence suggested was sensible, while 38-year old Kamran Akmal’s fading star in the field hasn’t prevented him from being gloriously successful with the bat in the resplendent yellow of Zalmi.

Most of these players are back for another stint in the PSL; perhaps the consistency of personnel across seasons is the secret to this side’s success. No team has managed to retain a core group of players as well as Zalmi since the league began; Sammy, Hasan Ali, Akmal and Wahab Riaz have worn no other colour.

Strengths

This is by no means the youngest squad in the league, but something about Zalmi always feels gregariously sprightly. Perhaps it is Sammy’s larger-than-life exuberance, but arguably no other side squeezes more out of their fading lights than Zalmi do. For all of Sammy’s injury concerns, his strike rate over the last two seasons is 158. No player comes within 170 runs of Kamran Akmal’s all-time run-scoring tally in the PSL’s history, while the addition of Tom Banton – second only to Babar Azam in the run charts at the Vitality Blast – to a side that’s already so joyful to watch is a deliciously exciting prospect. Even the blow of not having Kieron Pollard for the whole tournament has been buffered by replacing him with a reasonably like-for-like Carlos Brathwaite, while Liam Dawson’s return brings vital balance, in addition to a seasoned spin option.

The top two wicket-takers in the four seasons of the PSL are, far and away, Wahab Riaz and Hasan Ali, both of whom Peshawar have available again this season. Rahat Ali has proven more than handy for Lahore and Quetta over the years, while Brathwaite and Pollard’s ability to sneak in a few overs in the middle may prove handy in a number of games.

Weaknesses

Make no mistake, there are questions this time around. To what extent Hasan Ali has recovered from a back injury that has kept him out since the World Cup is by no means clear, and his absence for any length of time would be debilitating for a side that doesn’t appear to have bowling depth of any kind. Dwaine Pretorious, who Zalmi judiciously picked up, would have been excellent as a replacement, but he is now unavailable for the entirety of the competition.

Dawson’s spin is useful, but Zalmi have no real experience in that department besides him, and it isn’t at all clear that Shoaib Malik can be deployed with any real efficacy should another slow bowler be required. Imam-ul-Haq’s T20 star has fallen somewhat in the past 12 months, and while Sammy – who is likely no longer captain – does get through more games than his doctors might recommend, that knee is not getting any better. And of course, Brathwaite is good to have in Pollard’s absence, but he is by no means the same thing.

Squad: Imam-ul-Haq, Liam Livingstone, Umar Amin, Haider Ali, Adil Amin, Shoaib Malik, Kieron Pollard, Liam Dawson, Darren Sammy, Carlos Brathwaite, Mohammad Mohsin, Lewis Gregory, Tom Banton(wk), Kamran Akmal(wk), Hasan Ali, Wahab Riaz, Rahat Ali, Dwaine Pretorious, Aamir Ali, Mohammad Amir Khan

Management Staff: Javed Afridi (owner), Zaheer Abbas (President), Mohammad Akram (head coach), Hashim Amla (batting mentor) Grant Luden (fitness coach, fielding instructor), John Gloster (physio)

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