The fourth edition of Pakistan's premier domestic T20 tournament, Pakistan Super League, is all set to return on 14th February when Islamabad United take on Lahore Qalandars in the opening game. The tournament will feature six teams with each team playing against every other team twice in the league stage.
The tournament will follow eliminator-qualifier which is becoming more and more popular in T20 leagues.
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The contract of Multan Sultans was terminated recently and a new team, which is yet to be named, will replace them. There is no change to the rest of the teams, however. As confirmed by Pakistan Cricket Board, the last eight matches of the tournament will be held in Pakistan including the final which is to be played on March 17th at Karachi. As we all prepare for this cracker of the tournament, let's take a look at the relative merits of all the six teams involved in the competition.
The Qalandars have been one of the worst performing teams in the history of PSL and have consistently finished with the wooden spoon last in each of the last three seasons. Having said that, they've made plenty of changes to their squad with the most prominent one being the inclusion of AB de Villiers.
This will be the debut year of AB de Villiers in the PSL and the Qalandars will be heavily relying on him to finally get rid of the wooden spoon. AB de Villiers hasn't been at his best since the retirement but was still able to score plenty in South Africa's domestic competition. Along with de Villiers, the Qalandars have also snapped Mohammad Hafeez whose experience could be vital for the which is not well-versed with winning.
It was surprising to see Qalandars letting Sunil Narine go considering the balance he brings to the squad. Sandeep Lamichhane and Yasir Shah could play a major role on turning tracks, but it could get interesting if they do not get surface conducive to spin bowling. Although they have the services of international stars in Carlos Brathwaite and Corey Anderson in the all-rounder department, they both haven't been economical with the ball. They are prone to leak runs and can't really be depended up to provide four overs every single time.
Strengths: There's no bowling attack in the world which can contain AB de Villiers once he gets going and if he does, he is well and truly capable of taking the game away in a matter of just a few overs.
Weaknesses: Despite having many all-rounders at their disposal, their bowling lack variety and isn't known to be economical.
PSL 2019 Prediction: League Stage
Multan Sultans were added to the PSL mix for the third edition of the tournament, taking the total number of teams from five to six. However, the new owners have decided to keep the name of the team unchanged which will allow the team to keep its fanbase intact.
The Sultans made some excellent retentions and picks in the PSL draft with Shoaib Malik, Shan Masood, and Steven Smith being among their top picks. Shoaib Malik has matured terrifically and his experience of playing limited-overs cricket across the globe will come in handy for the Sultans.
Although Shahid Afridi did not have a season to remember last year, he has played some fine innings in the ongoing Bangladesh Premier League. Additionally, scoring off his leg-spinners has always been difficult which would be the case in UAE as well. Sultans boast of an excellent pace battery with Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Abbas, and Junaid Khan at their disposal. Their middle-order is dependent heavily on their overseas contingent and if the likes of Smith, Denly, and Evans are able to come to terms with the slow surfaces of UAE, the Sultans may well turn out to be the dark horses of the tournament.
Strengths: They have a terrific pace attack with all of their quicks having experience of playing for Pakistan in UAE which is likely to be helpful in crunch situations.
Weaknesses: Barring Shahid Afridi, they lack an experienced spin bowler. Assuming that the surfaces of UAE are going to be slow, the absence of quality spinners can make a truck-load of difference.
PSL 2019 Prediction: Playoffs
Having lifted the trophy twice in three years, Islamabad United come into the tournament with a reputation to build on. They, however, have a major challenge upfront of finding their new captain with Misbah Ul Haq being unavailable this time around.
Their batting lineup will rely heavily on Luke Ronchi who set the stage on fire last year. Averaging 43.50 in the last season, he scored 435 at a rapid strike rate of 182 runs which included five important half-centuries. Along with him, the major retentions for United were Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf, both of whom have been brilliant with the ball in the limited overs cricket for Pakistan. They both can also swing their bat around which adds to their batting strength lower down the order.
To strengthen their middle-order, the United have added Ian Bell and Phil Salt to their lineup who proved their mettle in the recent-most edition of T20 Blast. The United boast of experience throughout their lineup with the likes of Asif Ali, Wayne Parnell, and Rumman Raees available. The United are a well-balanced side and the presence of some real match-winners can take them a long way in the competition.
Strengths: The presence of many all-rounders provides depth to their batting lineup while providing options in the bowling attack which can really make a difference in the shortest format of the game.
Weaknesses: They have plenty of overseas batting options but the absence of Misbah Ul Haq has created a void which will be difficult to fill as do no not really have any experienced domestic player in the middle order.
PSL 2019 Prediction: Playoffs
Peshawar Zalmi is the only team in Pakistan Super League which has been as consistent as Quetta Gladiators, if not more. They made it to the playoffs in the inaugural edition and followed it up by lifting the trophy in 2017. They were brilliant in 2018 as well where they finished as runners-up.
Historically, the Zalmis have depended heavily on their quick bowlers. Peshawar Zalmi have arguably the best quick-bowling attack with the presence of Hassan Ali and Wahab Riaz. Darren Sammy has been inspirational as a skipper in his career so far, but it will be interesting to see how he fares with not much experience of playing competitive cricket in recent times.
Both Mohammad Hafeez and Shahid Afridi have played important roles in the respective editions they've played in, but with the absence of two veterans, the Zalmis appear to be a little light on experience in their batting department. Although they have experienced overseas batsmen in Dawid Malan, Kieron Pollard, and Wayne Madsen, and Kamran Akmal, they aren't really experienced in playing spinners which can be a big factor especially in spin-friendly conditions - which is likely to be the case in UAE.
Strengths: Peshawar Zalmi have the services of two of Pakistan's best bowlers in T20 cricket who are capable of destroying any batting lineup on their day.
Weaknesses: They lack batsmen with experience of playing spin or playing in UAE which, on spin-friendly surfaces, can put them in immediate disadvantage against a side having quality spinners.
PSL 2019 Prediction: League Stage
If the Gladiators were to be described in one word, it would be consistent and such has been their story. They've made it to playoffs thrice in three attempts and have placed the final twice - only to be the second-best side. That was largely because of their stars not traveling to Pakistan, but apparently, they've consciously tried to address this issue in this year's draft.
Quetta Gladiators got Umar Akmal and Sunil Narine in a trade made to Lahore Qalandars and should consider themselves extremely fortunate considering the skillset, balance, and experience the two players bring. With the presence of proven all-rounders in Shane Watson, Sohail Tanvir, and Dwayne Bravo they have a batting lineup that goes deep without compromising on the quality of the bowling.
Sunil Narine is likely to open the innings with Shane Watson and with the likes of Rilee Rossouw, Umar Akmal, and Sarfraz Ahmed available to come next, their batting line-up is second to none. Additionally, they have DJ Bravo and Sohail Tanvir in their lower order - both of whom are capable enough to turn the game in their favor.
Strengths: Quetta Gladiators have the services of proven T20 players who are both skilled and experienced which is a deadly combination. They also bat deep which can be crucial in tricky situations.
Weaknesses: It could have been better if they had someone to play the role of a sheet-anchor in their middle order which is something they lack.
PSL 2019 Prediction: Winners
Karachi Kings will probably be the happiest of all the teams after the draft. After experiencing three seasons of underperformance, they learned from their mistakes and picked up a team which is apparently well-balanced and complete, at least on paper.
There were clouds of uncertainty looming over the skipper of the side, but all of that is now clear with Imad Wasim continuing to be captain of the side. The opening pair of Babar Azam and Colin Munro could prove to be the best in the tournament considering the form they both are in. They retained Mohammad Amir and Usman Shinwari - both of whom are capable of troubling any batting lineup on their day and along with Sohail Khan, they form to be a lethal pace attack.
They have a well-settled middle order which has got a good amalgamation of youth and experience with the likes of Ravi Bopara, Colin Ingram, and Sikandar Raza. Ravi Bopara has been in fine touch in the ongoing Bangladesh Premier League and could play a vital role considering his ability to bowl miserly spells as well. While the Kings appear to be a pretty settled unit, they might have some concerns regarding who to assign the finisher role. They have some solid middle order batsmen, but Imad Wasim likely to come in at number six, they lack someone who can come in and hit from the word go in their late order. If Karachi can find someone to step up for this role, they'll be a very difficult side to beat.
Strengths: Karachi Kings have the services of bests in the business in all important departments and their experience is likely to play a key role.
Weaknesses: Lack of a proper finisher could hurt them in case they lose early wickets in intense games.
PSL 2019 Prediction: Runners-up
Coming into the tournament, almost all the teams have made plenty of changes to their lineups and they all seemed particularly happy after the draft.
Lahore Qalandars have signed batting stalwart AB de Villiers, but he is the only reliable batsmen they have in the middle order.
The Sultans haven't really impressed in their brief existence and it's highly unlikely that the change of owners will bring about the change in their fortunes.
Quetta Gladiators are the most consistent side of the tournament and it is surprising that they haven't lifted the trophy yet. Sarfraz Ahmed has been inspirational as a captain in all seasons and with the wealth of experience available at his disposal, we think that the Gladiators will finally lay their hands on the coveted trophy.