Part 1 of our team previews for PSL 2021 looked into the prospects of the Multan Sultans, Islamabad United and the Quetta Gladiators. Today we analyse where the other three teams stand, including the two finalists from last season.
All those seasons at the bottom of the table were forgotten last year thanks to the Qalandars' bristling competitiveness. The franchise rose from the ashes and stormed into their final by eliminating Peshawar Zalmi and then the league toppers Multan Sultans, before they lost to the Karachi Kings in the final. Over the years, the Qalandars had struggled to find their ideal combination and grappled with injuries and player unavailability, but last season they managed to create a desirable core under their captain Sohail Akhtar, a product of their player-development program.
The Qalandars now have a deadly bowling trio at their disposal, comprising the three highest T20 wicket-takers of 2020 in Haris Rauf (57), Rashid Khan (56) and Shaheen Afridi (52). And while this dynamic attack makes them stand out from the rest of the teams, their batting also packs a punch, with their top order including Fakhar Zaman, who is looking to revive his Pakistan career, Akhtar, who comes into the tournament with T10 form behind him, and Ben Dunk, who made 300 runs last season at a strike rate of 167.59. The Qalandars have retained him for this season, and released Chris Lynn.
The middle order also bursts with authority with Mohammad Hafeez, David Wiese and Samit Patel in the ranks. These three aren't the youngest, but they bring valuable experience and rock-solid temperaments.
- The Qalandars possess a bowling attack with all bases covered - pace, seam, left-arm spin, legspin, offspin.
- The captain Sohail Akhtar is an underrated batsman, who has a T20 hundred under his belt. His career strike rate of 128.68 might not look too flash, but he comes into the PSL with a chart-topping 248 runs at a strike rate of 187.87 in the Abu Dhabi T10.
- Hafeez has hit a purple patch in the shortest format of late, scoring 1005 runs at an average of 47.85 and a strike rate of 141.54 since the start of 2020. He's added a new dimension to his game with improved power-hitting, and even at 40 the Professor shows no signs of stopping.
Ben Dunk, David Wiese, Dilbar Hussain, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Hafeez, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Sohail Akhtar, Ahmed Danyal, Maaz Khan, Mohammad Faizan, Joe Denly, Rashid Khan, Samit Patel, Tom Abell, Salman Ali Agha. Zaid Alam, Zeeshan Ashraf
Potential First XI: Fakhar Zaman, Sohail Akhtar (capt), Zaid Alam, Mohammad Hafeez, Ben Dunk (wk), Samit Patel, David Wiese, Rashid Khan, Haris Rauf, Shaheen Afridi, Dilbar Hussain
The Karachi Kings broke their playoffs jinx last year to win the title. Otherwise, they had never finished in the top two, losing three times in the Eliminator and finishing in third place in 2017. They have always had a star-studded roster and arguably started each season as one of the favorites with a triumvirate of three long-standing players - Babar Azam, Mohammad Amir, and Imad Wasim as the captain - as their defining feature.
This year, as in the last few seasons, they have carefully injected firepower into their top order to bat around Babar Azam, trading Alex Hales with Islamabad United to bring back Colin Ingram, who had two sensational seasons for the Kings in 2018 and 2019, scoring 587 runs at a strike rate of 153.66.
Their coaching panel is largely taken care of by director and president Wasim Akram but the franchise has also roped in the former South Africa batsman Herschelle Gibbs as their head coach. Gibbs comes into the role that was previously held by Dean Jones, who died aged 59 in September last year in Mumbai. In November, the franchise dedicated their maiden title to Jones.
The top five positions offer guaranteed firepower with Sharjeel Khan, Ingram and Dan Christian capable of booming strike rates and batting around the class of Babar Azam.
- The Kings have decent bowling options but their pace attack can be over-reliant on Mohammad Amir's four-over quota. His form cost him his Pakistan place recently, and if he doesn't fire on a given day, it might test the other fast bowlers - Arshad Iqbal, Waqas Maqsood and Aamer Yamin. It could be a make-or-break season for Amir's career.
- A lack of batting depth could be an issue, with the Kings lacking truly top-drawer hitters down the order, though Imad and Mohammad Nabi can do a decent job.
Aamer Yamin, Arshad Iqbal, Babar Azam, Colin Ingram, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Amir, Sharjeel Khan, Waqas Maqsood, Chadwick Walton, Dan Christian, Danish Aziz, Joe Clarke, Mohammad Nabi, Mohammad Ilyas, Noor Ahmed, Qasim Akram, Zeeshan Malik
Potential First XI
Sharjeel Khan, Babar Azam, Colin Ingram, Dan Christian, Imad Wasim (capt), Chadwick Walton (wk), Mohammad Nabi, Aamer Yamin, Mohammad Amir, Waqas Maqsood, Arshad Iqbal
The franchise is in a rebuilding phase after losing their premier fast bowler Hasan Ali - who parted ways to join Islamabad United. They are the only team after Karachi to have made the playoffs each time they've played the tournament in the last five years. They've played as many as three finals, but won only once. Zalmi are going through a reboot this year, having retained only five players in the draft while every other team retained the maximum quota of eight to secure their core.
This is a new development, since no team has had as loyal a core as Zalmi's since the league began in 2016. Darren Sammy, Hasan Ali, Kamran Akmal and Wahab Riaz have worn no other colours until Hasan decided to leave; they also went through a mid-season crisis earlier, having to bench Sammy and appoint him as a coach. Their head coach Mohammad Akram - who has also been with the franchise from the beginning - has said the team is looking to make a fresh start.
- The middle-order is brimming with experience, with Shoaib Malik and Ravi Bopara occupying key positions.
- The bowling is largely based on their go-to quick Wahab Riaz, who is the leading wicket-taker in the PSL and has made a crucial contribution to Zalmi's success over the years. He might be missing Hasan at the other end but the attack will be bolstered by the arrival of the Afghanistan mystery spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman, who had a decent BBL season, picking up 14 wickets at an average of 13.42 and an economy rate of 6.26.
- Veteran Kamran Akmal hasn't had a good run lately with the bat, and has missed chunks of the recent domestic season due to fitness issues.
- Liam Livingstone pulling out on national duty has exposed cracks in the top order, leaving it largely in the hands of the inexperienced Haider Ali. Tom Kohler-Cadmore has been brought in as a replacement but he doesn't have a lot of experience in Asian conditions. Imam ul Haq, meanwhile, has hardly played since picking up a thumb injury in New Zealand.
Haider Ali, Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz, Abrar Ahmed, Amad Butt, David Miller, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Amir Khan, Mohammad Irfan Snr, Mohammad Imran, Mohammad Imran Randhawa, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Ravi Bopara, Saqib Mahmood, Sherfane Rutherford, Umaid Asif, Tom-Kohler Cadmore
Potential First XI
Haider Ali, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Kamran Akmal (wk), Shoaib Malik, Ravi Bopara, Amad Butt, Wahab Riaz (capt), Umaid Asif, Mohammad Irfan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Mohammad Imran
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent