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Feature

Qalandars search for maiden crown, Peshawar look to move past Kamran controversy

Shaheen Afridi will lead Qalandars in his first stint as captain, while Zalmi will be banking on Haider to come good

Umar Farooq
Umar Farooq
26-Jan-2022
Shaheen Afridi struck in the first over, Lahore Qalandars v Multan Sultans, PSL 2020, Lahore, March 15, 2020

Shaheen Shah Afridi will be captaining a side in the PSL for the first time  •  PCB

Lahore Qalandars

Captain: Shaheen Shah Afridi Coach: Aaqib Javed Full squad: Shaheen Shah Afridi (capt), Fakhar Zaman, Rashid Khan, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Hafeez, David Wiese, Abdullah Shafique, Ben Dunk, Mathew Potts, Kamran Ghulam, Dean Foxcroft, Sohail Akhtar, Zeeshan Ashraf, Ahmed Danyal, Zaman Khan, Maaz Khan, Samit Patel, Syed Faridoun, Imran Randhawa, Akif Javed.
Last season: Fifth
Last season, Qalandars won five out of their first six games. They had to win just one more game to make the playoffs, but ended up losing the last four, finishing with the second-poorest net run-rate. They are the only team in the league in the last six years not to win the title. Qalandars' best finish came in the fifth edition, when they reached the final, losing to Karachi Kings. But other than that season, they have generally finished near the bottom despite having a competitive roster.
What's changed for the season?
Qalandars have managed to keep their core intact, with Rashid Khan returning as their key overseas signing, and Shaheen Shah Afridi given a new role as captain. They will be concerned about the form of Mohammad Hafeez, though, because he has struggled to get going after getting among the runs in 2020. Qalandars have also picked up Yorkshire batter Harry Brook to strengthen the middle order, but he will miss the first three games, allowing a chance for Durham fast bowler Mathew Potts to chip in.
Meanwhile, Otago allrounder Dean Foxcroft, who missed two successive domestic seasons in New Zealand because of Covid-enforced border restrictions, will be hoping to revive his career. Foxcroft's last competitive game was in March 2020.
Player to watch
Afridi the fast bowler won the ICC's prestigious Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy and was recognised as the ICC Men's Cricketer of the Year for 2021. He took 78 wickets in 36 internationals at an average of 22.20 last year. His best performances came in the T20 World Cup, where he picked up seven wickets in six matches, including those of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli in the group-stage fixture against India, helping steer Pakistan to the semi-finals. He will don a new hat this PSL season when he comes out leading Qalandars, captaining a team at the senior level for the very first time.
"This captaincy is going to help me grow as a player," Afridi said. "There is no pressure right now but anything that comes my way will work as a learning experience. I am the main bowler for Pakistan and often get high-pressure situations. So, being a captain here in PSL, I will definitely be tested and going to find myself in tougher situations, but this eventually makes me stronger. This learning phase will help me in the Pakistan team."
Key stats
Since the start of 2021, Rashid has bagged 85 wickets in the 57 T20s he has played, 24 wickets more than anyone else. Rashid's recent surge at taking wickets came after picking up only 121 wickets in 101 T20s he played across 2019 and 2020, where he struck every 19.1 balls compared to once in 15.2 balls since 2021. However, his economy in both periods remains similar - 6.62 (2019-2020) and 6.6 (since 2021).

Peshawar Zalmi

Captain: Wahab Riaz
Coach: James Foster
Full squad: Wahab Riaz (capt), Hazratullah Zazai, Matt Parkinson, Haider Ali, Shoaib Malik, Sherfane Rutherford, Usman Qadir, Pat Brown, Hussain Talat, Salman Irshad, Arshad Iqbal, Sameen Gul, Kamran Akmal, Tom Kohler Cadmore, Sirajuddin, Arish Ali Khan, Ben Cutting, Mohammad Haris, Muhammad Umer, Sohail Khan, Imam-ul-Haq, Ammad Butt
Last season: Runners-up
Zalmi were on reboot mode last season after losing their ace, Hasan Ali, but still produced a strong performance as they went on to play their fourth PSL final, the most by any team. Zalmi won five out ten games, edging past Qalandars and Kings on net run-rate to finish third in the group stage. In the playoffs, they eliminated Kings and Islamabad United to storm into the final, only to falter in the last stage against Multan Sultans, falling well short in a chase of 207.
Overall, Zalmi are the second-most successful team in the PSL, with 38 wins from 70 matches, behind United. They have the best score-per-wicket average of 25.42. Last season, Zalmi were involved in the highest-scoring game in PSL history, against United, where they conceded 247 for 2 and made 232 for 6 in reply.
What's changed for the season?
There have been some differences between the franchise and experienced batter Kamran Akmal, who has been having a lean patch lately. The 40-year-old Akmal had initially refused to play for Zalmi, stating that he was "humiliated" at not being picked in the highest category at the auction. Zalmi eventually cleared the air with him and confirmed that Akmal was a part of their plans, as is wicketkeeper Mohammad Haris. However, Akmal is likely to miss the initial stage of the tournament after testing positive for Covid-19. Zalmi have roped in Imam-ul-Haq as his replacement.
There was an attempt made to bring back Hasan, but it didn't materialise. However, Zalmi thrived without him, as they built from scratch last season. Their top order is largely unchanged with Hazratullah Zazai in red-hot form and a lot expected from the ever-improving Haider Ali. The middle order last year was largely anchored by Shoaib Malik, with the steady hand of Hussain Talat there too. However, Zalmi will miss the services of Saqib Mahmood and Liam Livingstone, as the duo became unavailable for the start of the PSL because of their international commitments. Zalmi got legspinner Matt Parkinson and fast bowler Pat Brown as partial replacements.
Player to watch
Haider Ali was unleashed as an emerging player in the fifth edition of the PSL in 2020 and he became the youngest to score a fifty in the league for Zalmi. He had a blistering start to his international career as well, making a fifty on his T20I debut against England. However, Haider has had his share of disappointments after that initial success. He has a T20 strike rate of 139.04, and Zalmi will be banking on him as a fully developed batter this season.
Key stats
Wahab Riaz has 145 wickets in T20s under his belt since 2019 - only behind Rashid (206) and Imran Tahir (159). However, 48 of those wickets came in the middle overs (7-16), the second-most for any pacer in this phase. Wahab picked up 46 wickets across the last three PSL seasons, joint-most alongside Hasan Ali. He has consistently provided the breakthroughs in middle overs, where he took 22 wickets, only behind Shadab Khan's tally of 27.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent