PSL 2019: Meet the teams looking to dethrone champions Islamabad United
Season 4 of the Pakistan in the UAE gets under way in Dubai on Thursday
The fourth HBL Pakistan Super League starts on Thursday night when Islamabad United and Lahore Qalandars take the field, after Pitbull and Boney M have vacated the stage at Dubai International Stadium.
More of the tournament than ever before will be played back in Pakistan, with the organisers eyeing a total return in 12 months’ time. If this is the last we see of the PSL, there should be plenty to enjoy.
Do Islamabad know something everyone else doesn’t – given their dearth of household name players, but a trophy cabinet that boasts two of the first three PSL trophies?
Can Lahore finally achieve something – anything – when they throw a South African great, a Nepali teenager, and a raw fast-bowler from tape-ball cricket into their new-look XI?
They are not the only sides with much to ponder ahead of the new campaign.
Last year: Champions
Captain: Mohammed Sami
When Ian Bell played his last Test match for England in Sharjah in 2015, he might have thought the only times he would be heading back here would be for family holidays, golf, or the occasional charity cricket venture.
He has done each of those things in the time since. Now, though, he is back for some competitive cricket having been a surprise draft pick for the defending PSL champions.
It shows Islamabad pay attention to other leagues. Bell, who turns 37 in April, was third in the run-charts in England’s T20 league last summer, behind Laurie Evans and Aaron Finch.
Last year: Second
Captain: Imad Wasim
There is no doubt the T20 revolution of the past 15 years has dramatically improved the upward mobility of the game’s leading protagonists.
Some wear their wealth vividly. Others are more restrained. Babar Azam, who is out on his own at the top of the ICC standings for T20 batsmen, definitely falls into the latter category.
Mickey Arthur, his coach at franchise and national team level, recently revealed that Babar sends 100 per cent of his earnings home to his family, and his father decides his son’s allowance.
In celebration of his great success in recent times, the family presented Babar with a new car – a white Honda.
Last year: Runners up (third in the table)
Captain: Daren Sammy
It seems a little hard to believe Imam-ul-Haq has yet to play a PSL match, given his prominence in international cricket for Pakistan.
The left-handed opener might still be only 23, but he has played 10 Tests already, and has an impressive haul of five ODI centuries to his name in the 21 matches he has played.
He will make his PSL bow this season, having been announced as Peshawar’s 21st player on the eve of the tournament.
He has joined a squad that retains a number of the players that won the title in Lahore two years ago, and who want their crown back after giving it up to Islamabad in the final last year.
Last year: Fourth
Captain: Sarfraz Ahmed
Quetta have been the perennial bridesmaids in the PSL, twice losing in the final, then exiting in the play-offs last year.
In the past two years, when the final throes of the competition have been played out in Pakistan, they have been undermined by the unwillingness of their overseas players to travel.
In 2017, none of their foreign professionals went for the final in Lahore. All of Peshawar Zalmi’s did – and they ended up comfortable winners.
This time around, all apart from Shane Watson have agreed to go to Pakistan, according to their captain Sarfraz Ahmed.
“I’d like to say to Watson that he should come to Pakistan, too,” Sarfraz was quoted as saying.
Last year: Fifth
Captain: Shoaib Malik
UAE cricket fans were supposed to get two chances to see Steve Smith, the world’s-best-batsman-in-exile, this season.
The former Australia captain had a free schedule from last March, given his international and domestic suspension for his role in the "Sandpapergate" controversy.
First he signed up to play in the first UAE T20x. That, though, never made it past the planning stage.
Then he was drafted to Multan Sultans – or the “Sixth Team”, as they were then known – in the PSL. He will not be playing in this league either, though, having sustained an elbow injury that needs surgery.
Last year: Last
Captain: Mohammed Hafeez
To call them underachievers is a bit like saying Isaac Newton was a scientist. It covers the basics, but undersells the point.
They have finished last every year since the tournament began, despite having the likes of Brendon McCullum, Yasir Shah, Fakhar Zaman and Umar Akmal in their side.
Sure, luck has occasionally counted against them. Last year, they had big plans for Australian big-hitter Chris Lynn – in concert with his “Bash Brother” McCullum. But he did not even make it to the UAE, having suffered an 11th hour injury.
There should be no excuse this time, though, especially as they made the headline signing of the draft when they landed AB de Villiers.
Updated: February 14, 2019 07:39 AM