Fans have high expectations from the strong-looking Islamabad United squad; can Misbah-ul-Haq's men win the PSL once again, as they did in the inaugural edition of the tournament?
By Abdullah Ansari (13th February, 2018)
If PakPassion polls decided the winner of the Pakistan Super League, Islamabad United would be celebrating their second title win already. The general consensus has shown that Islamabad United have the strongest squad for PSL 2018 after a fantastic draft where they strengthened weak areas of the squad and opted for a youthful side. With that in mind, majority of voters are backing Misbah-ul-Haq's men to take the cup home once again.
Prior to the draft, one of the big announcements regarding PSL was Wasim Akram's switch to Multan Sultans; the left-arm fast-bowling legend was previously director cricket at Islamabad United. The owners wasted no time in finding a more than adequate replacement as former Pakistan Head Coach Waqar Younis was signed on as director cricket (and bowling coach). Former Australian star Dean Jones will resume his role as Head Coach while the now-retired Saeed Ajmal will take up coaching duties for the spin bowlers.
Moving on to the actual team members, the Misbah-ul-Haq led side has a wealth of options up top with the thrilling Luke Ronchi and Sam Billings providing twin opening/wicket-keeping options while exciting newcomer Sahibzada Farhan will provide another dimension to the team's top-order. England's Alex Hales is also available as a supplementary player to play a role if called upon. Youngster Hussain Talat, who impressed at #3 during the previous edition of the PSL will also surely be in contention for a top-order batting slot as Islamabad United strive to find the ideal combination to set up big totals.
In the middle-order, United have the experience of another new recruit, JP Duminy to look forward to with Samit Patel offering cover. They will also have high hopes from the Pakistani duo of Iftikhar Ahmed and Asif Ali who have been hugely impressive in recent limited-overs tournaments. Considering the wealth of batting riches at their disposal, skipper Misbah-ul-Haq may well have to settle for a lower-order spot after indifferent batting performances in recent times. 16-year-old Rohail Nazir and 27-year-old Mohammad Hasan both offer cover as batsmen and wicket-keeping options.
The all-rounders category is where Islamabad United blow the other PSL teams out of the water. In hard-hitting Andre Russell, they have a bonafide T20 star who can win matches with key contributions with bat and ball. Effervescent homegrown star Shadab Khan, who has grown leaps and bounds since PSL 2 will be one of the pillars of the side with his economical and penetrative leg-spin bowling while he is equally capable of holding his own with the bat and playing clutch knocks. In addition, United have signed up Faheem Ashraf, a clean striker of the ball and fast-improving pace-bowler. Youngster Amad Butt has also been retained after finishing as the top wicket-taker and second-highest run-scorer for HBL in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.
The 'jadugar', Saeed Ajmal has a vast variety of options to work with in the spin department. Alongside the aforementioned Shadab Khan, dependable T20 bowler Samuel Badree will once again don the orange of United. Talented Zafar Gohar has also been recruited and will be eager to show off his skills after a long injury lay-off as he aims to come back into contention for national team selection.
If there is an area of weakness in the Islamabad team, one would have to say it's the fast-bowling options. The two front-line options in the main squad are Rumman Raees and Mohammad Sami. The former has shown his abilities and is an exceptional bowler in T20 cricket and the latter is an accomplished veteran, but beyond that, Islamabad have just the all-rounders to fall back-on. However, in the supplementary picks, they do have the experience of Steve Finn available while highly-rated youngster Mohammad Hasnain is somewhat of an unknown quantity, but is highly rated by the franchise.
With all said and done, Islamabad United have assembled a formidable group of T20 cricketers and will be expected to go deep in the tournament. However, tournament wins are never a foregone conclusion and one off-day for any side, or one exceptional day for another can bring out an unexpected result. Islamabad United already have the experience of winning PSL after Misbah-ul-Haq led his side to win the inaugural edition of the league. Can he do it again on the 25th of March at National Stadium, Karachi?
Prediction: Winners or runners-up!
Players to watch: Sahibzada Farhan and Hussain Talat - Both will be eager to carry on their performances from domestic cricket and impress on the big stage to get closer to selection for the national team.
Islamabad United Squad for PSL 2018: Misbah-ul-Haq (c), Andre Russell, JP Duminy, Samuel Badree, Mohammad Sami, Luke Ronchi, Rumman Raees, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Amad Butt, Asif Ali, Sam Billings, Zafar Gohar, Sahibzada Farhan, Hussain Talat, Rohail Nazir.
Supplementary: Alex Hales, Steve Finn, Mohammad Hasan, Mohammad Hasnain.
Cover: Samit Patel for JP Duminy, Chadwick Walton for Sam Billings.