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Feature

PSL recap: Gladiators shine, Qalandars slide, and brothers unite at United

Also, the emergence of potential stars and DRS drama that ended with an apology

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
26-Feb-2024
Khawaja Nafay, with a unique pathway into cricket, has impressed for Gladiators  •  PSL

Khawaja Nafay, with a unique pathway into cricket, has impressed for Gladiators  •  PSL

As the PSL approaches its second half, we haven't been short on storylines. Lahore Qalandars have provided nostalgia pangs, while the Shah brothers have made us feel old. Here's a review of the action so far

Quetta's Gladiatorial revival


Something had to be done about the Gladiators, who had gone from being the most consistent PSL franchise to the least over the last four years, finishing bottom or second from bottom each time. Owner Nadeem Omar replaced Moin Khan as head coach, bringing in Shane Watson to clean house.
The burning question concerned the captaincy of Sarfaraz Ahmed, who had led the franchise in all eight seasons, and whose removal from Pakistan captaincy generated blowback that still rumbles on in some quarters. Watson opted to appoint Rilee Rossouw as captain, and since then, a new-look Gladiators have looked little short of imperious.
Mohammad Amir moving to the side has been one of the success stories of the season, while spinner Abrar Ahmed is arguably the most effective spinner at this season's PSL. Jason Roy still carries a devastating impact up front, while, in a sign of a franchise being healthy, they have had several players make an impact.
Most notable of these has been 22-year-old Khawaja Nafay, who broke into the PSL from outside the conventional pathway system in Pakistan. He flayed Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf during an unbeaten 31-ball 60 as Gladiators downed Gladiators.

Lahore's title defence


"No one wants to see something like that," is the sort of thing people utter when looking at, say, an F1 crash or a player animatedly arguing with an official. And yet, for people who seemingly don't want to see it, no one seems to be able to look away either; sometimes, that's all they've come for.
Which brings us to the Qalandars. Unless you're one of their long-suffering, briefly celebratory supporters, Qalandars managing to forge a path towards glorious failure is now PSL heritage. After bucking that trend three of the past four years, that tried and tested story arc has returned, and it's still as watchable.
They've spent almost the entirety of the Lahore leg in front of their home crowd losing every single game, starting off at the receiving end of drubbings, only to improve markedly and still fall short. The most agonising of these came against nemesis Karachi Kings in a final-ball humdinger, and to add injury to insult, saw Haris Rauf ruled out for the remainder of the tournament.
It didn't help that Rashid Khan was absent from the very outset, or that talisman Fakhar Zaman has yet to find form. There are sparks of a late charge, but after five successive losses, their playoff path is vanishingly small.

The heir and the spares


Naseem Shah might now be the prince of Pakistani fast bowling, but Islamabad United felt you couldn't have too many Shahs in a roster. Head coach Mike Hesson told ESPNcricinfo he was surprised Ubaid Shah, the youngest, was even available by the time their pick came around, and thus, Naseem, Hunain Shah and Ubaid were united at United.
It's been one of the more wholesome storylines and doesn't need instant impact to validate it. Naseem presenting his younger brothers with debut caps was a dream come true for all involved, as was opening the bowling with his youngest brother. There have been moments, such as Hunain getting rid of Jason Roy the first time he bowled to him. Still, for now, United continue to rely most heavily on Naseem, whose pace upon return from injury mercifully appears undiluted.

DRS drama


One thing cricket recently had over football is the efficiency and accuracy with which decisions are reviewed, and the relatively little controversy they generate. The last week, however, has seen DRS outdo VAR on that front, from the Test series in India to the PSL in Lahore. As Islamabad United threatened to tie down Quetta Gladiators in a low-scoring game, United bowler Salman Ali Agha trapped Rossouw in front, and the umpire agreed. However, DRS didn't, and deemed it missing, though the tracking trajectory appeared different from the original replay.
Rossouw would remain unbeaten and the Gladiators would win, but Shadab Khan came out fuming, directly attributing the loss to technology. On most occasions, players can safely be ignored after a bruising loss, but this wasn't one of them.
Less than 24 hours later, Hawkeye wrote to the PCB acknowledging that the error lay with their ball-tracking, and issued an apology. Perhaps there's life in the Umpire's Call yet...
Harry Potter's (aka Abrar Ahmed) wizardry
Pakistan's white-ball outfits have been missing a quality spin option in the middle overs for years. And years ago, back in 2016-17, Mickey Arthur identified Abrar as the solution. It's taken seven years and an unlikely detour via a red-ball breakthrough, but Abrar has landed.
So far this season, he has been among the league's best spinners; alongside Akeal Hossein, he has helped revitalise the Gladiators. Given the diversity of talent Pakistan has produced over the years, it's still slightly incongruous that they've never played a mystery fingerspinner like Abrar before his Test debut last year. It's been clear this season how much they have missed having one.
He has bowled inside the powerplay and in the middle phases, has been difficult to get away (an economy of 7.62) and has looked like a wicket-taking threat (currently the joint-highest wicket-taking spinner this season*). He was close to playing in last year's World Cup (and how Pakistan needed him) but if he keeps on going like this, he should be a shoo-in for the T20 World Cup. (If selection was based on wicket-taking celebrations, Abrar making to clean his glasses right after having Usman Khan stumped against Multan Sultans, he'd have already been in.)
*An honourable mention for the leggie Usama Mir, the other leading spinner this season. He's effortlessly replaced Imran Tahir at Multan Sultans and has been a key reason why they are early-season front-runners.

Danyal Rasool is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @Danny61000