LAHORE: Islamabad United are the only side to win the HBL Pakistan Super League title twice. They were the inaugural winners in 2016 and recorded their second title win in 2018 when they defeated Peshawar Zalmi by three wickets in Karachi.
When the eighth edition of the HBL PSL kicks off, Islamabad United would be hoping to add Supernova Trophy to their cabinet. They begin their journey on 16 February against Karachi Kings at the latter’s home.
PCB Digital spoke to Azhar Mahmood, the head coach of Islamabad United, in the lead up to the tournament. He spoke about the depth in Islamabad United’s squad and the role of the data in the team selection. Below are the excerpts from the interview.
How excited are you about the HBL PSL 8 being played in the four cities in Pakistan?
This HBL PSL is going to be very exciting as the teams will get to play in front of their home crowds. When I was with Multan Sultans and we played in Multan, the atmosphere was surreal. To play in front of your home crowd is a huge morale booster for any team and you will see the fan following getting a further boost in the upcoming season.
Whenever Islamabad [United] play in front of their home crowds [at the Pindi Cricket Stadium], we get an unbelievable response.
How satisfied are you with the line-up you have put together?
We have won the title twice and are eager to win the third. During retention and player draft, we focused on what brand of cricket we want to play and devised a formula accordingly. Our formula is to fill our top-order with foreign players, and this time we have tried to add more depth to it by keeping in mind who is available at what juncture of the tournament.
We have Sterlo [Paul Sterling], [Colin] Munro [at the top of the batting order] and in the lower order we have Tom Curran, Gus Atkinson.
In the spin all-round depth, we have Shadab Khan, Zafar Gohar, Moeen Ali, Mubasir Khan, who is an emerging player, and Abrar Ahmed, who we have seen can bat in the Tests.
Amongst the fast bowlers, we have Faheem Ashraf, Tom Curran, Gus Atkinson, who has the ability to bat, but not many have seen him yet, then we have Hasan Ali and Mohammad Wasim [Junior].
So, when we will jot down our line-up, we will have players who can bat till number 10, which perfectly suits our brand of cricket.
After the top three in batting, we have Azam Khan, one of the finest hitters, and Asif Ali, and we have brought in Sohaib Maqsood, who can replace any of these cricketers if they are injured or are unable to perform. In the absence of Alex Hales, we will be able to utilise Hasan Nawaz, a young exciting player who has had good domestic tournaments.
In bowling, we have Zeeshan Zameer, who is an emerging talent. Though he bowled only 15 balls in the last edition, but he made an impact. We worked on his fitness and he is fully fit now. Hopefully, he will do well for us this season.
To cover the left-arm fast bowling, we have brought back Rumman Raees, who can replace Fazal-e-Haq Farooqi, who is not available for the first few matches, and towards the end we will have Tymal Mills.
So we have had a look at all the pitches [where we will be playing] and conditions and then devised this squad.
It is very important that many things go in your favour to win a tournament of this nature – when you gain momentum and how you manage injuries. This is the best team in terms of selection. By having a look at the squad, you can see the depth and see how there are replacements available. We have tried to cover all the bases, but at the end of the day, it boils down to your execution on the day of the match.
Who are you banking on to win you matches?
Everyone in my team is a match winner. These players have the ability and skill and they have what it takes to win us matches … now it is upon me to get the match winning efforts from them. I have to make sure that they have the perfect environment in which they can thrive.
The execution of plans and decision-making under pressure are key in the T20 format. My method and philosophy is to play attacking cricket whether you are batting or bowling and there is a great emphasis on fielding. There is an element of luck in batting and bowling, but one’s attitude and body language define fielding, and you can change the game by how your field.
What is the role of data in your team selection?
I am a big believer in data. It can backfire sometimes, but selecting your side through it provides you an extra advantage. It provides you a complete picture regarding the conditions and how certain players can come into play. It also helps one to improve their players as you can work on why a bowler is leaking more runs in the death overs by checking what lengths he is bowling.
Data also helps you in the match-ups and in formulating a playing XI after having a closer look at the opposition, the conditions and the ground dimensions.
Who do you think has the chance of lifting the HBL PSL 8 trophy?
Though all teams look very good on paper, I would say Islamabad and Multan have the chance. Lahore have the one of the best bowling line up in the world when you add Rashid Khan to the attack.
One will have to do a lot of hard work and think out of the box to win matches in this tournament.