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Islamabad possess overwhelming batting firepower; Quetta are well-balanced

Islamabad will persist with their shock-and-awe tactics with the bat, while Quetta look to switch things up after a lean few seasons

Danyal Rasool and Umar Farooq
Jason Roy slogs one away  •  PSL

Jason Roy slogs one away  •  PSL

The eighth edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) gets underway on Monday, with Multan Sultans taking on defending champions Lahore Qalandars in Multan. ESPNcricinfo brings to you a team-wise break-up leading up to the start of another PSL season, with Quetta Gladiators and Islamabad United concluding our three previews ahead of the action.
Quetta Gladiators
Captain: Sarfaraz Ahmed
Coach: Moin Khan
Bowling Coach: Umar Gul
Fielding Coach: Ryan Maron
Full squad: Mohammad Nawaz, Naseem Shah, Wanindu Hasaranga, Iftikhar Ahmed, Jason Roy, Odean Smith, Ahsan Ali, Mohammad Hasnain, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Mohammad Zahid, Naveen-ul-Haq, Umar Akmal, Umaid Asif, Will Smeed, Aimal Khan, Abdul Wahid Bangalzai, Martin Guptill, Omair Bin Yousuf, Nuwan Thushara, Qais Ahmed and Saud Shakeel, Dwaine Pretorius, Will Jacks, Nuwan Thushara, Odean Smith, Dwaine Pretorius
Last season: Fifth
They beat Karachi Kings twice, thumped eventual champions Lahore Qalandars and Islamabad United once each the tournament but didn't make the play-offs. They lost six games last season and over the last three seasons they have the fewest number of wins (10) of all franchises, having not made into the play-off since 2020. They were edged out last season on net run-rate (-0.708) by Islamabad United (-0.069).
They had on paper a good set of overseas signing last year, with Jason Roy and Will Smeed amassing 303 runs at a strike rate of 170.22 and 240 runs at 137.14 in six games respectively. But their local players haven't responded to that tone-setting. Their luck hasn't been great either; Mohammad Hasnain was banned for his bowling action, Mohammad Nawaz got injured, and several overseas player were only partially available. That all meant they struggled to settle on a proper core and build around it.
The only consistent thing about Gladiators is their faith in captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, who is the only captain in the PSL to have remained in that position since the league's inception in 2016.
What's changed for the season?
They have Ifti-mania - Pakistan's man of the moment, Iftikhar Ahmed, in absolute prime form. He signed off at BPL after 11 games with a sparkling strike rate of 157.39 and 351 runs and then hit Wahab Riaz six successive sixes in a festival game between Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi in Quetta. Their local players appear to be in form with the middle-order brimming with confidence around Iftikhar providing the firepower. They again have a strong overseas roster and backup plans to fill in for players partially available also appear foolproof: Odean Smith is available for 8 to 9 matches but they have Dwaine Pretorius is in the roster; Will Jacks is behind Jason Roy - who could potentially miss three games; Hasaranga is available for first eight matches but they also Afghanistan's ace spinner Qais Ahmad as backup.
Player to watch
Pace is pace yaar: Quetta Gladiators already have the sensational Naseem Shah and Mohammad Hasnain. But they are even better stocked now, after signing Mohammad Zahid aka Kernal (or Colonel) Zahid, a renowned fast bowler straight off the tape-ball circuit. Though hasn't got a big domestic career to speak of, he has the ability to hit 150 kmph and will definitely be one of the players to look out for this season.
Key Stats
Naseem Shah is mastering the T20 format, having picked up 40 wickets in 32 T20s since the start of 2022 at 22.63. His strength, however, is death-overs bowling, where he concedes at 8.52 runs per over, the fifth-best among bowlers since 2022.
Iftikhar Ahmed has been at his finest in the BPL after averaging only 8.14 across seven matches in the Lanka Premier League (LPL). He scored 351 runs at a 157.39 strike rate, which includes his maiden T20 hundred. This is only the second time he has scored over 300 runs in a T20 tournament, behind the 409 runs in the National T20 Cup in 2021.
Islamabad United
Captain: Shadab Khan
Coach: Azhar Mahmood
Assistant/Spin bowling coach: Saeed Ajmal
Full squad: Shadab Khan, Paul Stirling, Alex Hales, Sohaib Maqsood, Asif Ali, Rassie van der Dussen, Colin Munro, Hassan Nawaz, Moeen Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Mubasir Khan, Tom Curran, Mohammad Waseem Jr, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Azam Khan, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Zafar Gohar, Rumman Raees, Zeeshan Zameer, Hasan Ali, Abrar Ahmed, Tymal Mills, Gus Atkinson
Last season: Playoffs
It was a stop-start season for Islamabad United in 2022, alternating commanding wins with narrow losses. The strength of the batting line-up allowed them to blow teams away on a number of occasions, although consistency remained elusive. However, that meant a vastly superior net run rate to other teams around them and ensured they managed to secure a playoff berth with a losing record, with four wins and six losses. They went on to beat Peshawar Zalmi in the first eliminator, before succumbing to Lahore Qalandars in a thriller in the second eliminator.
What's changed this season?
Islamabad United have maintained the core of their batting line-up, both domestic and foreign, with Paul Stirling, Alex Hales, Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Colin Munro all returning in 2023. They will be bolstered by having Moeen Ali - and as a replacement for him - Rassie van der Dussen, while Asif Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Azam Khan and Shadab Khan remain fixtures in a squad with fearsome batting depth. In Mubasir Khan, they also have one of the brightest young lights in Pakistan cricket.
Like last year it's the variance between the floor and ceiling of their bowling ability that could end up determining their fate. Tymal Mills, Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf and Mohammad Wasim can all be extremely handy while on song, but have suffered significant dips in form from time to time. Tom Curran, another addition to the roster this year, falls in much the same category, while Gus Atkinson, untested in the PSL, has been expensive during his short T20 career. This is a line-up very much designed to blast out the opposition with the bat, but on days - and pitches - where that isn't possible, there will be vulnerabilities.
Player to watch
Abrar Ahmed, the mystery spinner-legbreak bowler, is perhaps the most intriguing addition to this line-up. Having made his PSL debut six years ago as a baby-faced 18-year old, Abrar spent nearly four years out of T20 cricket, much of it due to a severe stress fracture of the back. He has eased his way back to the format in the last six months, most notably during an encouraging National T20 Cup in 2022. However, he owes his sudden rise to prominence thanks to an 11-wicket haul in his debut Test against England in Multan in December. How he adapts to the shortest format after red-ball success should provide significant intrigue.
Key stat
Across the first seven seasons of the PSL, no side has a higher run-rate than Islamabad United's 8.40. In Pakistan, the difference is even more stark, with United the only side to boast a batting run rate in excess of 9 (9.02).