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Karachi Kings lack batting firepower; Peshawar Zalmi missing premium fast bowlers

Babar Azam will be leading Zalmi after switching over from Kings, who have Shoaib Malik back

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
Karachi Kings had won just one out of ten matches last season  •  PSL

Karachi Kings had won just one out of ten matches last season  •  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 Karachi Kings and Peshawar Zalmi in the first of three previews ahead of the action.

Karachi Kings

Captain: Imad Wasim
Coach: Johan Botha
Batting Coach: Ravi Bopara
Assistant Coach: Michael Smith
Full squad: Imad Wasim, Haider Ali, Andrew Tye, Mohammad Amir, Imran Tahir, Matthew Wade, Shoaib Malik, Aamer Yamin, James Fuller, James Vince, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Akhlaq, Irfan Khan Niazi, Qasim Akram, Mohammad Umar, Sharjeel Khan, Tayyab Tahir, Tabraiz Shamsi, Ben Cutting, Musa Khan, Faisal Akram
Last season: sixth
Just because a calamity can be foretold doesn't mean it can be prevented. Kings' 2022 squad looked unbalanced and disjointed from the outset, and that is exactly the way it played out across the season. Mohammad Amir was injured early, there were few good spin options, and almost no batting firepower to speak of. All that combined for the worst win-loss record in the history of the PSL, as Kings won just one match and lost nine.
What has changed this season? Where do you start? Well, only one place, really. Babar Azam is no longer part of Kings, having moved to Zalmi during the trading window last November. He is the highest run-scorer in PSL history - aside from being the biggest name in Pakistan cricket at present - but that doesn't necessarily mean his absence will spell disaster for Kings. One of their most enduring problems last season was the inability to get off to quick starts, and while Babar may be prolific, he is not as pacy up top as most T20 sides would want.
But it is Kings' inability to adequately bolster their batting firepower that remains their biggest concern. James Vince will likely take Babar's place as opener, though his partial availability means Sharjeel Khan might need to provide most of the powerplay fireworks. In the middle order, Haider Ali and Ben Cutting, both of whom have PSL pedigree but have since fallen out of form, will need to come good.
The partial unavailability of Tabraiz Shamsi, another key player, spells trouble for Kings, who are, once more, short of high-class spin options. Joe Clarke has been replaced by Matthew Wade, who Kings showed enough faith in to pick in the Platinum Category. Shoaib Malik, too, has returned to Kings from Zalmi, with Imran Tahir and Andrew Tye the other high-profile signings.
Player to Watch
Middle-order bat Tayyab Tahir was named Player of the Match in Pakistan's One Day Cup - their premier 50-over domestic competition - final last month for hitting 71 in a win for Central Punjab, for whom he cracked 573 runs - the most by any batter - in the tournament. Those efforts earned him a maiden call-up to the national side, as he was also the third-highest run-scorer in the National T20 Cup last year, striking at just under 139. In a Kings side with limited power in the middle order, his contributions could be vital.
Overall, by some distance, Kings' is the oldest squad in the league; there are five players aged 35 and over. The timeless Imran Tahir, now 43, will need to shoulder much of the spin-bowling responsibility, and whether or not this season is a bridge too far for him might well determine how Kings go this season.
Key stat
There are only two men over the age of 40 playing the PSL this year. Both - Imran Tahir and Malik - belong to Kings. No other side has a player over the age of 38 in their squad.

Peshawar Zalmi

Captain: Babar Azam
Coach: Daren Sammy
Batting Consultant: Kamran Akmal
Full squad: Babar Azam, Rovman Powell, Sherfane Rutherford, Wahab Riaz, Arshad Iqbal, Danish Aziz, Mohammad Haris, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Mujeeb Ur Rehman, Aamer Jamal, Saim Ayub, Salman Irshad, Haseebullah Khan, Khurram Shahzad, Richard Gleeson, Peter Hatzoglou Sufyan Muqeem, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Usman Qadir, Jimmy Neesham, Haris Sohail
Last season: Eliminator
Zalmi faced an uphill struggle to guarantee playoff qualification given how the first half of their campaign went. They sat fifth after their first six games, having won just two matches until then and needing four successive wins to guarantee qualification. But a late-season surge thanks to a number of individual performances in key games ensured they achieved just that, ultimately finishing in third place. In the playoffs, though, that run came to an end in the first Eliminator, as Islamabad United pipped them in a thriller.
What has changed this season?
Babar arrives and immediately takes over the captaincy, and how Zalmi and Babar work together would be fascinating. After seven seasons at Kings, a franchise that has been inconsistent throughout its history, he arrives at one which has sustained success; Zalmi are the only PSL side never to miss out on the playoffs.
However, Zalmi have lost out on a number of power hitters that shone at crucial stages in 2022. Hazratullah Zazai, Haider Ali and Liam Livingstone have all left, as has Malik. It places significant responsibility on two young local batters in Mohammad Haris and Saim Ayub, each of whom enjoyed breakout seasons in the last 12 months.
But in the West Indies duo of Sherfane Rutherford and Rovman Powell - the latter only partly available - as well as big-hitters Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Jimmy Neesham, they might just have replaced them adequately enough.
The bigger concern might lie in the absence of premium fast bowlers, with the possible exception of Wahab Riaz, the 37-year old Zalmi veteran. Offspinner Mujeeb ur Rehman will only be partly available too, while Richard Gleeson will come in to cover while Powell is absent. Salman Irshad, Arshad Iqbal and Usman Qadir will have to ensure Zalmi's bowling isn't a pushover, while 18-year old left-arm spinner Sufiyan Muqeem might also get a chance.
Player to watch
Saim Ayub made his PSL debut aged 18 in 2021 at a time when the big stage perhaps came too quickly for him; he scored 114 runs in seven innings at a strike rate of only 108.57. But in the National T20 Cup last year, he was the second-highest run-scorer with 416 runs at a much-improved strike rate of 155.12. He followed it up with 461 at 107.20 in the Pakistan Cup, and won a contract at the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) on the back of his form. Still just 20, Zalmi's roster offers him a glistening opportunity to light up the PSL this time around.
Key stat
Zalmi now have the highest wicket-taker in PSL history in Riaz (103), as well as the most prolific run-scorer in Babar (2413).

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000