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Newcomers Multan bank on experience to make instant PSL splash

Catch me if you can: Imran Tahir sprinted a long way after his first-ball wicket Associated Press

History

Multan Sultans will make their debut this season, meaning the total number of PSL franchises vying for four qualifying spots goes up to six.

Team overview

Given this is their maiden season, Multan had no players to retain from the previous year, and instead had the pick of nine available players before the draft began. They opted for experience in a big way, their pre-draft players including Shoaib Malik, Kumar Sangakarra, Kieron Pollard, Sohail Tanvir and Junaid Khan. At the draft, they brought in Darren Bravo, Ahmed Shehzad and Imran Tahir among a raft of other seasoned names, almost as if looking to offset the franchise's lack of experience by filling it with players who have been around long enough. At the same time, there appears to be shrewd and informed knowhow behind their draft picks; the inclusion of Hardus Viljoen and Ross Whiteley, relatively unknown quantities in Pakistan, indicative of that.

Strengths

Much of the Multan squad reads like a who's who of players who have proven themselves around the world for at least a decade or so. This includes international players, of course, in the shape of Sangakarra, Tahir and Pollard, but the core of the team will be Pakistani players who are themselves impressive repositories of experience. Malik, Junaid, Tanvir and Umar Gul will all wear the Multan shirt this season, all of them boasting a wealth of T20 experience in the conditions the PSL will be played. They might be the newest team this season, but these old hands will know exactly what it takes to win high-pressure games.

Tahir has been one of the world's best limited-overs bowlers for several years now, and though he may be considered a foreign player, the 38-year old began his career in Pakistan and may be as intimately acquainted with the subtleties of Pakistan cricket as several local players. That means the Multan squad could have a more Pakistani feel to it than perhaps any other, and with his exuberant celebrations and infectious joy for the game, the feel-good factor of Tahir in form could sweep right through the camp. Tanvir has a reputation for being valuable at this level, while Junaid, Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Abbas and Gul provide bowling options that, on their day, can stifle any team dead in its tracks.

Weakness

The immediate concern with Multan is their biggest asset could turn out to be a huge handicap if things go awry. Their batting unit looks like it could be the envy of most Test sides, littered as it is with classical, conventional batsmen. Sangakarra, Bravo, and Shan Masood look great on paper, but big, proven power hitters - Pollard excepted - are conspicuous by their absence. Malik will have to step up into a more aggressive role than he is arguably comfortable playing. Across both PSL seasons, Malik has scored 359 runs at a strike rate of 116, which doesn't quite cut it at T20 level.

Meanwhile, regular contributions from Thisara Perera and Tanvir will be essential. Tanvir has never quite struck form in the PSL, enduring two disappointing seasons, both with bat and ball. Multan also rely on Shehzad to provide the early fireworks, and as Pakistan fans will bemoan, reliability is not his strongest suit. On a good day, Multan could comfortably clear 200, but over the course of 10 games, this aspect of their squad could be left rather brutally exposed.

Key foreign players

One glance at the Multan squad tells you they would be banking - quite heavily - on Pollard to be the lynchpin of their batting aggression. It is a faith that he has repaid for West Indies, as well as almost a dozen T20 franchises, an average over 30 at a strike rate above 150 underlining his value in the format. However, Multan will have noted with some concern his dipping form since they drafted him into their squad. A couple of half-centuries aside, he didn't quite manage to accumulate too many runs in the Bangladesh Premier League, and the experimental T10 league in the UAE and the following Big Bash League both brought meagre returns.

However, his all-round abilities help balance the squad, and his fielding exploits on the boundary rope have become the stuff of legend. In addition, he enjoyed prolific returns at the PSL last year, averaging 40 with a strike rate of 171.79. If recent performances are merely an ephemeral blip - and the course of his career has shown they may be no more than that - then Multan have in their squad one of the best T20 players of this generation. His decision to pull out of the World Cup Qualifiers for West Indies also handed his PSL franchise a massive boost.

Under-the-radar local players

Nineteen-year old Saif Badar may not yet be a household name, but if you take the word of coaches who have worked with him, he may well be soon. Earmarked by Aqib Javed as potentially the "next batting hero" for Pakistan, Badar was prolific at the Under-19 World Cup in 2016, scoring 258 runs in six matches, including an unbeaten 75 against England. A right-handed batsman with a high backlift and the ability to generate easy power, Badar could well be the newest youngster to use the PSL as a launchpad for an international career, much like Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz did in previous years.