LAHORE: Cricket lovers in Pakistan and around the world have been treated with some exciting innings, fabulous spells and pulsating contests over the first 16 matches in the eighth iteration of the HBL Pakistan Super League.
The tournament promises much more thrill and drama as it enters its business end from tomorrow when Rawalpindi stages its first HBL PSL 8 fixture as Peshawar Zalmi lock horns with Karachi Kings.
Below is a look at how the tournament has been so far for the six teams (order according to the position on points table).
1. Lahore Qalandars (Played 5, Won 4, Lost 1)
It has been an incredible homecoming for Shaheen Afridi’s side. They defeated Peshawar Zalmi on Sunday and topped it next night with an incredible thumping of Islamabad United to record their biggest win (in terms of runs) in the HBL PSL. The twin wins at home – in front of a rousing jam-packed crowd – have propelled Lahore Qalandars to the top of the points table.
Lahore Qalandars will take heart from the fact that they play three of their last five matches at home, where they lifted the title last year, and that the Gaddafi Stadium hosts the three Playoffs and the Final is a further motivation for the side.
They had an incredible start to the tournament as they defeated Multan Sultans by only one run at the latter’s home after one of the best shows of death bowling, featuring Shaheen, the captain himself, Haris Rauf, and Zaman Khan.
Fakhar Zaman, who was the leading run-getter last year, and Shaheen are living up to the expectations as both lead their respective departments for their side and are second on the overall charts. Fakhar has accumulated 235 runs at a brilliant SR of 173 and has scored two half-centuries, while Shaheen has picked up 10 wickets at an average of 15 and a strike rate of 10.8. He is one of the two bowlers – the second being Multan Sultans’ Ihsanullah – to record a five-fer.
The addition of Abdullah Shafique has provided a boost to Lahore Qalandars’ batting line-up. The right-hander one-drop has played a pivotal role in both wins at home with brisk 75 and 45. Lahore Qalandars’ fans are in for a treat if he continues to score at a strike rate of 184.61.
2. Multan Sultans (Played 6, Won 4, Lost 2)
Mohammad Rizwan’s side made the most of the home advantage by winning four of the five games at the Multan Cricket Stadium. Their only defeats in the first six matches have been in the tournament opener and in their only away game, courtesy a match-winning half-century by HBL PSL debutant, Tayyab Tahir, and a combined effort from the Karachi Kings’ spinners.
Multan Sultans are locked with Lahore Qalandars on points, but have a smaller net run rate that positions them at second. They will look to avenge the defeat against Lahore Qalandars on 4 March when the two sides face off at the Gaddafi Stadium. They then travel to Rawalpindi to play Islamabad United, Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators.
In fast bowler Ihsanullah, Multan Sultans have produced a strong contender for emerging player of the tournament award. The right-arm pacer is the leading wicket-taker and has phenomenal numbers in the tournament. He has taken 14 wickets in six innings at an average of just 9.35. His economy rate is only 5.53 and has a strike rate of 10.1. He was the first bowler to pick up a five-fer.
In Mohammad Rizwan, Multan Sultans have the most successful batter of the season, who is the only batter with 300 runs this edition and is one of the two batters to score a century. Rizwan has made 358 runs at an average of 89.50 and has a strike rate of 141.50. He has also scored three half-centuries and hit 37 fours, which are the most for any batter this season.
3. Islamabad United (Played 5, Won 3, Lost 2)
It has been a bag of mixed results for Shadab Khan’s men. They have beaten Karachi Kings, Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators, but have faced big defeats to Lahore Qalandars (by 110 runs) and Multan Sultans (by 52 runs).
That they will have the support of home crowd for the entire next round bodes well, and the two-time champions will be hoping to win maximum matches to finish the league stage as the best side.
Hasan Ali’s return to form and his incredible player of the match performance against Peshawar Zalmi adds an element of aggression and firepower to their pace attack. The right-arm fast bowler has taken seven wickets in only three matches at a strike rate of 10.2.
Azam Khan’s swashbuckling 97 against Quetta Gladiators is already a contender for the innings of the season. The hard-hitting wicketkeeper-batter has the most runs for his side (170 runs at a 175.25) and his presence in the middle-order ensures that Islamabad United continue to play their brand of all-out attack cricket, in case of top-order misfiring – which was on display that night in Karachi.
4. Karachi Kings (Played 6, Won 2, Lost 4)
Karachi Kings may feel hard done by lady luck as three of their four defeats have been by close margins – by two runs against Peshawar Zalmi, by six runs against Quetta Gladiators and by three runs against Multan Sultans at the latter’s home.
They will, however, take heart from their crushing 66-run win over Multan Sultans on Sunday in what was their last match at home, and how they steamrolled arch rivals Lahore Qalandars by 67 runs.
They will not have home advantage anymore as they travel to Rawalpindi, where they play Peshawar Zalmi, Islamabad United and Quetta Gladiators before locking horns with Lahore Qalandars at the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore on 12 March, which will be the last group match of this edition.
Imad Wasim, the Karachi Kings captain, has led his team from front. He leads his side’s batting and bowling charts with 180 runs at an average of 90 and strike rate of 176.47 and seven wickets at 22. Tayyab Tahir, who was selected for Pakistan’s squad for New Zealand ODIs in January, promises to be an exciting prospect as he smashed a match-winning half-century against Multan Sultans on what was his HBL PSL debut.
5. Peshawar Zalmi (Played 5, Won 2, Lost 3)
When they play Karachi Kings tomorrow in what will be the first match at the Pindi Cricket Stadium of this HBL PSL edition, they will hope that the result is a repeat of the last encounter between the two sides, and it leads to a series of wins. Never before in the history of the HBL PSL they have failed to qualify for the Playoffs and they will hope that the streak continues.
Their captain, Babar Azam, has been leading the franchise from the front. He has amassed 178 runs at an average of 44.50 and has smashed two half-centuries. While it is critical for Peshawar Zalmi that Babar’s bat continues to ooze runs, in Mohammad Haris and Saim Ayub, both of whom have made 108 runs each, they have two young batters who have taken the league by storm.
When it comes to their batting styles, the two are on different ends of the spectrum, but it is difficult to look away from the screen when either is at the crease. Haris is your modern-day T20 batter whose breathtaking strokeplay in built upon improvisation and manoeuvring and Saim’s repertoire of traditional shots oozes elegance and class.
Both have been effective in the top-order. Haris’ strike rate reads a staggering 180 and Saim Ayub has scored two half-centuries. The two will be critical to Peshawar Zalmi as the league moves on.
6. Quetta Gladiators (Played 5, Won 1, Lost 4)
It has been another underwhelming season for them. Since their successful campaign in 2019, Quetta Gladiators have been unable to qualify for the Playoffs and all indicators point towards another finish at the bottom. They have faced heavy defeats to Multan Sultans (nine wickets), Lahore Qalandars and Islamabad United (both by 63 runs) and their only win in this edition was against Karachi Kings, in what was their second match of the tournament. Quetta Gladiators will be eager to have a change in fortunes when they take on Lahore Qalandars on 2 March at the Gaddafi Stadium.
Mohammad Hasnain, the right-arm fast bowler, played a crucial role when Quetta Gladiators lifted the title in 2019. He was the player of the final and that he is in form and the best bowler from his side is a good sign for Sarfaraz Ahmed’s side. His figures of eight wickets from five innings at an average of 19.37 is a testament of how good he has been and Quetta Gladiators will hope he continues to deliver as the tournament progresses.
None of the Quetta Gladiators batters is in the top 10 of the highest run-getters list. Martin Guptill, who made the first century of this edition in that win against Karachi Kings, is 12th with 151 runs from five innings. As they play their last round of league matches, they will be pinning hopes on Iftikhar Ahmed to fire. Iftikhar is the third best batter in T20s this year with 478 runs at an average of 47.80 and a strike rate of 148.44.