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Ageing Islamabad United gear up for title defence

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What ails Islamabad United? (0:50)

Despite being reining champions, Islamabad United have a lot of ground to cover if they hope to repeat their performance from last season (0:50)

Inaugural season results
After initially looking like the poorest side in the competition in 2016, Islamabad United mastered that fabled Pakistani ability: peaking at the right time. Four heavy defeats in the first six games must have had Misbah's men fearing the worst, but that indifferent start was followed by a remarkable turnaround in form. They edged a tight contest against Karachi Kings, and won their last five games in what ended up being a romp to the PSL's inaugural title.

Team assessment
Having retained 17 players from last season's successful campaign, Islamabad United appear to want to stick to their winning formula. The aggressive English wicketkeeper-batsman Ben Duckett has been added as a supplementary player, who is likely to help not only with the strike rate, but, at 22, the average age as well. An aging team might be a concern, with Misbah-ul-Haq, Shane Watson, Saeed Ajmal, Samuel Badree, Mohammad Sami and Brad Haddin all over 35 years old. The wealth of experience they bring cannot be underestimated, but this is a team that wasn't considered extremely dynamic even when they won the title last year.

Moreover, the leading wicket-taker of last year's edition, Andre Russell, has been suspended for a doping violation. While Steven Finn has been drafted in to replace him, the team from the capital are likely to miss the Jamaican's explosiveness with the bat.

However, Islamabad do possess a handful of exciting young players for whom this tournament represents an excellent opportunity to realise their potential. Sharjeel Khan is arguably the hottest property in Pakistan's T20 side since his prolific PSL last year, a 62-ball 117 in the third-qualifying final showcasing the threat he poses. Rumman Raees, whose rise has been rather less meteoric, will also be looking to build on a stellar tournament in 2016, where he took eight wickets with a tidy economy rate of 6.79.

Key overseas player
Sam Billings had a disappointing PSL last year, but he has become a fixture in England's limited-overs squad (if not the playing XI) since. He represented the Sydney Sixers in the Big Bash this season, playing just five games due to international duty, but of his four innings, he was the Sixers' top-scorer in three. An international T20 strike rate of 154.65 owes much to a 25-ball 53 in Dubai in a Man-of- the-Match winning performance against Pakistan. This tournament will be played in the same conditions, on the same grounds. Pair him with Sharjeel at the top of the order, and we might find out what Powerplay really means.

Under the radar local lad
Hussain Talat was in top form in the Regional One-Day Cup in January. The left-hand batsman scored 319 runs for FATA, including two centuries, at an average of just under 80 (despite one duck). According to one of Islamabad United's managers Rehan-ul-Haq, Talat is rated highly by everyone at the franchise; people there are particularly impressed by his ability to make scoring quick runs look easy. With a solid T20 average (28.77) and a strike rate of 111.15, this PSL could be a stepping stone to bigger things for the 20 year old.

Availability
As previously mentioned, Andre Russell has been banned for a year due to a doping violation. He was replaced by Steven Finn. There are no injury concerns.

Coaching staff
Dean Jones (head coach), Wasim Akram (team director), Tauseef Ahmed (assistant coach), Johan Botha (fielding coach), Rehan-ul-Haq and Hassan Cheema (managers)

Squad
Misbah-ul-Haq (c), Shane Watson, Steven Finn, Samuel Badree, Brad Haddin, Sam Billings, Sharjeel Khan, Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Sami, Khalid Latif, Saeed Ajmal, Asif Ali, Rumman Raees, Imran Khalid, Amad Butt, Hussain Talat. Supplementary players: Dwayne Smith, Ben Duckett, Shadab Khan, Zohaib Khan