The sixth edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) kicked off last night with last year's champions Karachi Kings beating last year PSL winners Quetta Gladiators by seven wickets.
Like every year, it should be a cracker of a tournament this time around, too, with a total of 34 matches scheduled to be played over the next month. Each of the 6 franchises are packed with superstars who are expected to set the stage on fire.
With a plethora of quality international and national players trying to outplay each other, it's quite difficult to predict who will have the biggest impact. However, there are a few amongst them whose records and potential make them stand out in our list.
The 5 players to watch out for in the PSL 2021 are as follows:
1. Babar Azam (Karachi Kings)
Once again, all eyes will be on the Pakistan skipper and one of the best all-format players in the world currently, Babar Azam.
The stylish right-hander is second in the list of highest run-getters in PSL history with 1516 runs from 47 matches. While his strike-rate is on the lower side (117.97), his average of 37.90 shows he more than makes up with his consistency.
The 26-year-old was on fire in last year's edition, finishing as the leading run-scorer with a record-breaking 473 runs. Babar's crucial knocks in the Qualifier (65) and the Final (63*) also showcased his ability to stand up and deliver in big games.
Karachi fans will be pinning their hopes on Babar Azam to be the team's rock and help them become the first side to successfully defend the PSL title.
2. Hasan Ali (Islamabad United)
The second-highest wicket-taker in PSL history, Hasan Ali, was in fine form during his comeback in the recently-concluded South African tour of Pakistan. The right-arm fast bowler wreaked havoc in the second Test and finished with his maiden 10-wicket match haul to lead his team to victory.
While he's picked up all his 59 PSL wickets playing for Peshawar Zalmi, the fiery 26-year-old's pace and accuracy is going to hugely benefit his new team, Islamabad United. Expect some unplayable toe-crushers and signature 'explosion' celebrations from Pakistan's much-adored paceman.
3. Alex Hales (Islamabad United)
After being snubbed in the IPL 2021 auction, Alex Hales will be itching to prove a point and show the world exactly what they'll be missing in April. The highest run-scorer of BBL 2020-21 (543 runs), Hales smashed 239 runs from 5 games to help Karachi King lift the PSL 2020 trophy.
However, the champions decided to trade the 34-year-old to Islamabad United (with Colin Ingram moving the other way). The destructive opener will want to continue his impressive form at the top of the order for a side which finished last in the league's previous season.
4. Shaheen Afridi (Lahore Qalandars)
Another young pace sensation from Pakistan, Shaheen Afridi, is widely regarded as one of the most talented fast bowlers in the world. Still just 20 years old, Afridi has the ability to swing the new ball at pace and also deliver toe-crushing yorkers at the death.
The left-armer finished PSL 2020 as the highest wicket-taker (17 from 12 matches), taking Lahore all the way to the finals. Along with Rashid Khan, the Qalanders will once again bank on Afridi to pick up crucial wickets for the team.
5. Kamran Akmal (Peshawar Zalmi)
Former Pakistani wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal is the highest run-scorer in PSL history, with 1537 runs to boast over 56 matches. The 39-year-old has also scored 3 centuries in the tournament, an achievement all the more impressive when you realise that no other batter has managed to score more than 1.
Peshawar will once again be hoping the talismanic Akmal bludgeons the bowlers all around and leads them to glory in PSL 2021.
Haider Ali, Mohammed Rizwan, Colin Ingram, Rashid Khan and Chris Lynn.