Four breakout stars from PSL 2018
Who is ready to graduate to the national team before next year's tournament?
What separates the PSL from other T20 competitions in Pakistan is the glittering array of international stars it attracts to Pakistan. Luke Ronchi's seemingly invincible form was one of the running themes of the 2018 PSL, playing no small part in helping his side Islamabad United win the coveted title for the second time in three years. Shane Watson, another household name across the world, too, brought the best he had to offer to this year's PSL, scoring 319 runs at an average of over 35 and a strike-rate of over 135. Aside from that, we had Kumar Sangakarra's early-season form, Anton Devicich's late-season explosiveness, and of course, the delightfully gregarious Darren Sammy, without whom it feels no PSL would be complete.
But it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the PSL is the best platform for Pakistan's domestic cricketers to launch their careers. While attendance and eyeballs for the Quaid-e-Azam trophy, Pakistan's premier first-class competition, and other local tournaments is negligible, this is one domestic tournament that rivals viewership for any international cricket Pakistan play. It's a platform that players like Shadab Khan, Fakhar Zaman and Mohammad Nawaz, among a handful of others, have used especially effectively to catapult themselves to the international side.
Here, we take a look at four Pakistan cricketers who might have performed well enough to earn their maiden international cap before next year's PSL.
Hussain Talat was earmarked as an exciting talent as early as last year's PSL, when, in one of the only games he played, he stroked an irresistible 39-ball 56. It isn't so much about the runs as it is about the elegance with which he gets them. The left-hander possesses an array of shots that clearly signal natural talent more than modifications through hard work. He has built on that this year, scoring 201 runs at 33.50 and a strike rate of 131.37, including several useful cameos that have led to close wins for Islamabad United.
He began the season with a mature, nerveless unbeaten 48 to take Islamabad home in a tight, low-scoring contest against Multan Sultans. He then played an important part in Islamabad securing a tie against Lahore Qalandars by smashing 33 off 21 balls. Islamabad eventually secured a win in the Super Over. It was a turning point in Islamabad's season as they went on a tear after that, winning seven of their next eight games en route to the title. The paucity of genuine batting talent to come through Pakistan's domestic system makes Talat all the more exciting, and his handy medium-fast bowling makes him an even more well-rounded candidate to put on a green shirt.
Given the strength of their domestic players, it's no wonder that Islamabad won the title. Though in no way similar to Talat, Asif Ali is just as useful in his own way, with a gift for that four-leaved clover as far as Pakistan is concerned: power-hitting. It's no rocket science that Pakistan's ability to regularly compete at the T20 and ODI levels with the more modern teams has to do with their inability to produce big, powerful hitters. Enter Asif Ali. The 26-year old right-hander scored 213 runs at an astonishing strike rate of 169.04; only Luke Ronchi had a better strike rate among players who scored more than 160 runs in the tournament. Misbah-ul-Haq showed great faith in Asif when he sent him out with Andre Russell to bat in the Super Over, where Asif's six over long-on was pivotal to the win.
Asif hasn't looked back since, a 24-ball 45 against Peshawar Zalmi particularly standing out for the clean striking. What will overshadow all those knocks, though, is the cameo in the final, when Islamabad began to stutter horribly under pressure. After a first-ball reprieve, he struck Hasan Ali for three sixes in a row to take Islamabad to the brink of the title, and ended up with 26 off six balls, at a strike-rate of 433.33. With numbers like those, Pakistan may find a place for him before next year's PSL, at least in the T20I side.
Shaheen Shah Afridi
By far the most ambitious inclusion on this list is the 17-year old left-arm Lahore Qalandars fast bowler. But whether or not it happens this year, Shaheen Afridi's career trajectory seems inevitably to be taking him towards international cricket. He took a nine-wicket haul in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy last year, and before that, toured Australia with the Under-16 side. But it was a game against Multan in this year's PSL that may well be remembered as the launching pad of an illustrious career. Coming in to bowl in the later overs, Afridi was the catalyst for a remarkable Multan collapse, with Shoaib Malik's side losing nine wickets for 22 runs. Afridi's own figures read 3.4-1-4-5.
A tall, broad-shouldered young man, Afridi looks to have the physical attributes required of a fast bowler, and his control and pace at this age make him an exciting prospect, if he's managed well and is able to avoid injuries. Mickey Arthur spoke glowingly about him in a press conference last week, drawing comparisons with Mitchell Starc, which suggests the coach's keen interest in shepherding him to the national team at some stage. After all, it's not like a 17-year old left-arm fast bowler has never played for Pakistan, is it?
Another player, who, like Talat, has been gaining admirers since last year's PSL, is Quetta Gladiators allrounder Hasan Khan. The then 18-year old Hasan took nine wickets at an economy rate of 6.97 with his left-arm spin in PSL 2017, impressing with his control, consistency and confidence. This year, while he managed just six wickets, the economy rate was even better at 6.67. Still a teenager, Hasan looks to have a big personality that is capable of handling the pressure and rigour of international cricket. He is the captain of Pakistan's U-19 side, a position once held by Sarfraz Ahmed, now the national team captain in all three formats.
Those might be big shoes to fill for the baby-faced Hasan, but he impressed with his temperament when he smashed Kieron Pollard for six off the penultimate ball to seal a two-wicket win for Quetta against Multan. It's a moment that would have given him a taste of the big occasion, and his abundant talent should, if managed properly, give him several opportunities to fulfill it, even on the international stage.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000