Ahead of the historic fifth season of the Pakistan Super League, five of the six teams have already taken part in practice matches with Islamabad taking on both Karachi on February the 17th and Peshawar on the 18th. Lahore Qalandars and Multan Sultans both took on the touring MCC side on the 14th and 19th of February, with both weakened sides suffering defeats to Kumar Sangakkara's side.
Defending champions Quetta Gladiators were the only team not to play before the tournament starts so we will not speculate on their team at all but we can look at what took place in the matches that have occurred and see what we can expect for the other teams this season.
#1. Islamabad did the best job of sharpening up
eady, Islamabad United look like the early favourites for the title this year and the team is pretty easy to predict following these matches. Luke Ronchi returned to playing after some time coaching with New Zealand and looks as much a threat right now as he was two years ago in a brutal showing.With Colin Munro, Phil Salt, Colin Ingram, Dawid Malan also part of the squad, Islamabad's batting riches are aplenty and when you add this plus the success batting first in both warm-up games, expect Islamabad to bat first as much as possible when having the option.
As far as the bowling goes, expect Amad Butt to play ahead of Rumman Raees at least for the tournament start and Zafar Gohar will likely sit out. Dale Steyn is an obvious pick for the first game and Akif Javed will play as an emerging player with Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf also pretty self explanatory picks to begin with. The surprise bowler of choice could be Hussain Talat, who was pretty solid in his bowling against Peshawar with a three-wicket haul. There was a concern over no sixth bowler, but Talat could chip in.
#2. Lahore Qalandars will rely heavily on senior players
The much spectated clash between Lahore and the MCC at the Gaddafi Stadium last week on February the 14th was a big blow for the men in green as the team showed huge fragility without big star names. The senior players who took part, like Fakhar, Hafeez and Shinwari, performed well but as we all know the smaller domestic names will need to play a big role if Lahore are to break their duck in the main event.
Also see – ICC Women’s T20 world cup points table
Lahore Qalandars made their biggest picks in the top order and pace bowlers and these players will have to perform very consistently to get the franchise through to the play-offs for the first time. A top-order comprising of Fakhar Zaman, Chris Lynn and Mohammad Hafeez makes a good read for Lahore fans, but none of them are particularly consistent and they will have to be to score quickly if they are to make up for the distinct lack of consistent firepower seen in the middle order with Faizan, Dunk and captain Akhtar.
The bowling is a very similar story. Big selection Usman Shinwari is a welcome addition to the already rapid pace attack of Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf, but they will have to be on top form if they are to support the pretty low profile spin attack. All three of Lahore's first choice pacers were pretty expensive last season but Shinwari looks better right now and Shaheen and Rauf have risen dramatically in the time since then.
Yes, granted that Samit Patel is a very capable spinner, but he is more of a wicket-taking option than an economical off-spinner, which makes little sense given the three pace options they have. Lahore should have probably picked a more miserly off-spinner to compliment the pacers and the sixth bowler Hafeez is pretty hard to analyse given his lack of bowling recently. It's a similar story with Sri Lankan Seekkuge Prassana, who was a flop in the Caribbean Premier League last year as a replacement for Fawad Ahmed. Prassana can take crucial wickets but he is prone to very expensive spells at times, making Lahore's bowling potentially very shaky in terms of economy for 2020.
#3. Peshawar Zalmi will look at many spin bowling options this season
The Peshawar Zalmi side looked pretty bare in terms of spin bowling after the draft, but the warm-up match against Islamabad provided answers as to who the yellow storm could look at. Because Rahat Ali looks like he will play and Haider Ali has a good chance of opening the innings, young emerging off-spinner Aamer Ali will probably not play and this leaves only Liam Dawson as a spin option in the starting XI, despite competition from Lewis Gregory and Carlos Brathwaite to even play in the first place.
After keeping a close eye on the training camp and match though, Dawso looks very probable to play and could be central to both the death overs batting and the middle overs for his bowling. He won't be the only option for Zalmi however, as Shoaib Malik has been touted as a regular option and Liam Livingstone has been tested out.
The only problem is how to fit everyone in and despite low chances, Aamer Ali seems the most sensible, which would likely force Haider Ali out. This may not be the worst thing though, as Kamran Akmal, Tom Banton, Umar Amin, Malik, Kieron Pollard and Darren Sammy looks like a formidable top six. All of these dilemmas make Peshawar Zalmi probably the most intricately built squad this season.
Despite the very unpredictable nature of the Pakistan national team, the Pakistan Super League is always surprisingly predictable. Certain sides always succeed and some always fall short of the mark and squad selections appear to suggest the fifth edition of the tournament could be very similar; but only when the action begins will we know for certain.