Watch the 2021 Pakistan Super League live on Sky Sports. Defending champions Karachi Kings take on Quetta Gladiators in the opening match on Saturday

Watch the 2021 Pakistan Super League live on Sky Sports. Defending champions Karachi Kings take on Quetta Gladiators in the opening match on Saturday

After the fifth edition’s play-offs were delayed to late last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is a quick turnaround for the Pakistan Super League with the sixth edition kicking off this weekend.

The PSL makes its Sky Cricket debut this year – starting with Karachi against Quetta at 2.50pm on Saturday; here Tanzil Khawaja takes a quick look at the teams in the tournament, how they fared last season and some players to keep an eye on.

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February 20, 2021, 2:50pm

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Islamabad United

Coach: Johan Botha
Captain: Shadab Khan
Best Finish: Champions (2016, 2018)
Last Season: Sixth

Winners of the inaugural tournament and so far the only team to win two titles, Islamabad United will be looking to extend that number to three this year after a disastrous rock-bottom finish last season, taking only seven points from their 10 matches. They have rejigged their set-up this year, bringing Johan Botha back into the fold as head coach this time and have enlisted the services of Rumman Raees as bowling consultant. Botha comes with a wealth of experience having previously worked as Multan Sultan’s assistant coach and head coach in 2018 and 2019 and United will be banking on that experience to turn things around this season.

United will be without four out of five of their top run scorers from last season – players such as Dawid Malan, Colin Munro and Colin Ingram – and so will need the likes of Asif Ali and Hussain Talat to step up this year to help make up the difference. They have however acquired the services of Paul Stirling and adding in a resurgent Hasan Ali with the ball, United will be hoping to secure their third title.

Alex Hales could prove to be a brilliant trade for Islamabad at the top of the innings

Alex Hales could prove to be a brilliant trade for Islamabad at the top of the innings

Player to watch

Some firepower may be found in the shape of Alex Hales. Islamabad United traded Ingram for Karachi Kings’ Hales as the Englishman returns to United after one season with the Kings, a move that could prove very fruitful for the two-time champions. The move came about due to Hales’ preference to open the batting, a position that was not open to him at Karachi with Sharjeel Khan and Babar Azam up top. United will hope that Hales can continue on his fine form from the recent Big Bash where he finished top scorer with 543 runs, including three fifties and a sublime 110 off 56 balls.

Karachi Kings

Coach: Herschelle Gibbs
Captain: Imad Wasim
Best Finish: Champions (2020)
Last Season: Champions

Karachi Kings have made the playoffs in every season but had never progressed to the Final – until last year that is.

After seven matches, the Kings sat fourth in the table, only one point above fifth place, but after a 10-wicket drubbing of the Qalandars and a comfortable four-wicket victory over two-time champions Islamabad United in their penultimate game of the group stage, the Kings once again qualified for the playoffs, this time making it all the way to the Final after a dramatic Super Over win over Multan Sultans in the Qualifier.

The Final was not so dramatic however as the Kings chased down 136 quite comfortably against Lahore Qalandars, courtesy of a steady 49 ball 63 by star batsman Babar Azam giving the Kings their first-ever title, and after the death of head coach Dean Jones a month prior, the hashtag #ForDeano was fittingly trended all over Pakistan.

Player to watch

If he can follow up from his exploits in the recent white ball domestic tournaments, Danish Aziz could become a household name at the end of this year’s PSL. He showcased his hard hitting ability in the National T20 Cup where, batting at number six, he ended up striking at 155 and averaging an incredible 73.3, the second highest (minimum five innings) only behind Azam. It was his 72 not out against KPK that got people talking – needing 19 off the last over, Aziz dispatched Iftikhar Ahmed to all parts going 4, 0, 0, 6, 4 and with five required off the last ball, smashed a low full toss straight down the ground to snatch victory against all odds. Adding in the fact he can be more than handy with the ball with his left arm spin and Karachi may just help their odds of becoming the first team to defend a PSL title.

Lahore Qalandars

Coach: Aaqib Javed
Captain: Sohail Akhtar
Best Finish: Runners Up (2020)
Last Season: Runners Up

Statistically speaking, Lahore Qalandars are the worst-performing PSL team since the tournament’s inception, with a win percentage of only 36.73 per cent – comfortably behind Karachi Kings in second last with 46.15 per cent.

In fact, before last year, the Qalandars had finished bottom of the table every single year and it seemed like it would be the same old story last season after the Qalandars had lost four of their first five games, collecting two points from a possible 10 and sat rock bottom, four points behind fifth-placed Quetta Gladiators.

An eight-wicket win over defending champions the Gladiators, however, seemed to spark something in the team as they went on to win four of their next five matches, including an eight-wicket win over arch-rivals Karachi Kings courtesy a brutal 99no (40) by Ben Dunk, an innings which included a PSL record of 12 sixes.

Lahore secured a playoff spot for the first time after they downed league leaders Multan Sultans by nine wickets after Chris Lynn recorded the Qalandar’s first-ever century – a sensational 113no (55) and almost had the dream finish overcoming Peshawar Zalmi by five wickets in Eliminator 1, then winning by 25 runs in Eliminator 2 only to be comfortably beaten by Karachi Kings by five wickets in the Final.

Lahore will hope to get the most out of Rashid Khan before he returns to international duties

Lahore will hope to get the most out of Rashid Khan before he returns to international duties

Player to watch

Currently, in world cricket, there may only be a handful of names bigger than that of Rashid Khan. The Afghanistan spinner was picked up by the Qalandars as their first draft pick and will be banking on his skill and franchise experience to help take Lahore one step higher. In last year’s IPL, Khan finished with 20 wickets, second-most by a leg spinner, only behind Yuzvendra Chahal’s 21. His numbers are more impressive when looking at his strike rate and economy in the tournament, taking his 20 scalps at an average of 17.20, third overall and lowest by a leg spinner and finished with the best economy in the tournament going at just 5.37. Unfortunately for Qalandars, his availability is the biggest issue as he will soon jet off to play against Zimbabwe in the UAE next month and so they will be looking to cash in as much as possible with the time they have.

Multan Sultans

Coach: Andy Flower
Captain: Mohammad Rizwan
Best Finish: 3rd (2020)
Last Season: 3rd

Having won four of their first five matches, Multan Sultans had taken eight points from a possible 10 and sat top of the pile where they remained until the end of the group stage.

Multan Sultans looked an entirely different outfit to the team that finished fifth two years running since their inception in 2018. A change of owners and personnel in 2020 – namely, acquiring the services of Andy Flower as head coach – had changed their fortunes last season.

The Sultans qualified for the playoffs after beating Islamabad United by nine wickets in a reduced nine-over-a-side match – chasing down 92 in 6.4 overs courtesy of a James Vince blitz of 61no (24). However, Multan couldn’t continue on that momentum as they lost the Qualifier against Karachi Kings in an incredible Super Over and then went on to lose Eliminator 2 by 25 runs against Lahore. With a heavy focus on a data-driven approach, Multan will fancy their chances to repeat their dominance of the group stages and hope they can go all the way this season.

Mohammad Rizwan recently reached his maiden T20 hundred - against South Africa - with a six

Mohammad Rizwan recently reached his maiden T20 hundred – against South Africa – with a six

Player to watch

You will be hard-pressed to find a stock that has risen quicker and higher than that of Mohammad Rizwan’s. Starting from Pakistan’s tour of England in 2020 where Nasser Hussain called him the “best foreign wicket-keeper to tour England for a long long time”, Rizwan’s exploits with the bat have made him an asset to any team. Not only was his 104 not out against South Africa the second time a Pakistan batsman crossed the three-figure mark in T20s, but he became only the second wicketkeeper-batsman to score a century in all three formats – the first being none other than former New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum. Rizwan ended the T20 series with 197 runs and set a new record for the most runs scored by a Pakistani batsman in a three-match T20I series.

Last season Rizwan was at Karachi Kings where he only played 2 matches and Multan Sultans have cashed in on his dramatic rise and named him captain of the franchise and will be hoping he will lead the Sultans to PSL victory just as he led his domestic side, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to National T20 glory.

Peshawar Zalmi

Coach: Daren Sammy
Captain: Wahab Riaz
Best Finish: Champions (2017)
Last Season: 4th

Peshawar Zalmi will be looking to add to their 2017 triumph and become the second team to win the PSL title twice.

Before last year, Zalmi had always qualified for the playoffs finishing no less than third in the group stage – in fact they have finished first in the group stage in three out of four seasons and have been runners up two years in a row.

Zalmi lost their last two group games and finished with nine points but despite the Gladiators defeating Multan Sultans on the final day of the group stage and also reaching nine points, Zalmi secured a playoff spot by virtue of a better net run rate and finished in fourth – their first finish outside the top three.

Zalmi will hope that veterans such as Shoaib Malik and the tournaments highest run-scorer (Kamran Akmal, 1,537 runs) and leading wicket-taker (Wahab Riaz, 76 wickets) can work with the exciting young talent such as Haider Ali and overseas superstar David Miller to help deliver a second title.

Afghanistan's Mujeeb Ur Rahman is racking up some impressive numbers

Afghanistan’s Mujeeb Ur Rahman is racking up some impressive numbers

Player to watch

If Lahore Qalandars have Rashid Khan to throw the ball to, then Peshawar will be banking on the services of his compatriot Mujeeb Ur Rahman. Following in the footsteps of his idol Rashid Khan, Mujeeb is quickly rising as one of the most exciting young talents in world cricket. Currently sitting third in the ICC T20I Bowler Rankings, only six points behind first-placed Rashid Khan, Zalmi fans will be eager to see Mujeeb work his magic and can look forward to seeing the great control he can bring to the bowling attack.

In the recent Big Bash, Mujeeb’s 14 wickets were taken at an average of 13.42, third-best overall and the best among spinners. His economy rate of 6.26 was the lowest amongst all bowlers (minimum 10 overs bowled) and finished with best figures of the tournament of 5 for 15. Both Qalandars and Zalmi have aces up their sleeves in the shape of these exciting Afghanistan spinners and they could prove not only to be a handful but also be the difference between the teams going deep in the tournament. Mujeeb may also be off to play against Zimbabwe soon and just as is the case for the Qalandars with Rashid Khan, Zalmi will be hoping that he can inject some momentum before he departs.

Quetta Gladiators

Coach: Moin Khan
Captain: Sarfaraz Ahmed
Best Finish: Champions (2019)
Last Season: 5th

The 2019 champions weren’t able to defend their title and their fifth-placed finish at the end of the group stage meant that for the first time ever in PSL history, neither Islamabad United nor Quetta Gladiators had made the playoff stage.

They started their title defence well enough, sitting joint top with six points after four matches. Game five was where Quetta’s troubles began after a 30-run loss to Multan Sultans, set up by the fastest PSL century in history – a 43-ball blitz by Rilee Rossouw. This started a run of four straight losses including an eight-wicket defeat to Lahore Qalandars after the Gladiators limped to 98-9 in their 20 overs. Despite finishing with the same points as fourth-placed Peshawar, it was the Purple Force’s Net Run Rate then meant they would miss out on the playoffs for the first time. With players like Tom Banton, Chris Gayle and Faf du Plessis on board and Umar Gul as bowling coach taking Mohammed Hasnain and Naseem Shah under his wing, Gladiator fans will be hoping they get back on track and see last season as a very small blemish.

Sarfaraz Ahmed is determined to put the Gladiators back on a title charge

Sarfaraz Ahmed is determined to put the Gladiators back on a title charge

Player to watch

The name Azam Khan has been talked about over the last year and a bit but 2021 could be the year he sees his name up in shining lights. Son of World Cup-winning wicketkeeper-batsman Moin Khan, Azam has shown he has the ability to take apart bowling attacks and has showcased his clean striking in both the Lankan Premier League and Abu Dhabi T10.

Out of all the overseas batsmen in the LPL, Khan was the second-highest run-scorer (215) and had a strike rate of 187, second only to Andre Russell. Some of his scores in the tournament were 55 off 24, 35 off 16 and 36 off 17 – hitting a total of 16 sixes in the league, fourth-most overall and second-most for an overseas player. Once dubbed as Pakistan’s Chris Gayle, fans will be relishing at the thought of the youngster batting together with his idol and the league could very well be lit up by the destructive duo.

Watch the Pakistan Super League live on Sky Sports Cricket, starting with Karachi against Quetta from 2.50pm on Saturday.

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