LAHORE: Peshawar Zalmi won the first-ever HBL Pakistan Super League match to be played on Pakistani soil. It was the final of the 2017 edition and by beating Quetta Gladiators comprehensively, they became the champions of the second edition of the tournament. Their win percentage of 54.37 is best amongst the five sides who have been in the HBL PSL since its inception in 2016.
Peshawar Zalmi will commence their journey in the eighth edition of the HBL PSL on 14 February against Karachi Kings at the National Bank Cricket Arena.
PCB Digital spoke to Darren Sammy, their head coach, about the role of Babar Azam in the Peshawar Zalmi dressing room, his own journey in the league as a player, mentor and now the head coach, and the evolution of the HBL PSL.
Below are the excerpt from the interview:
You will be working with Babar Azam, one of the best batsmen in the world right now. How is this experience going to be for you?
It is a pleasure to have him on board in the Zalmi camp. We always look at the bigger picture and the bigger picture is how we can win another title. We’ve been labeled as the most consistent team in the HBL PSL. But us as a team starting over, it feels 2016 all over again where there was Shahid Afridi, there was myself, a young Wahab [Riaz], and Kamran Akmal, and we built a legacy in the league. We built up a franchise to becoming one of the number one sports brands in Pakistan.
Babar in the dressing room is a great thing to have. He is one of the best batsmen in the world.
What are the aspects you are looking to work on with Babar?
I always tell people I do not see myself as a coach. I call myself a tactician. You look at Babar and there is not much more you could add to his game from a technical aspect.
My input could be from the tactical aspect in regards to the captaincy, leadership, working with men from different places. How do you manage them? How do you get a group of men to go out and perform?
Our hallmark has been the way we have been able to play as a team and to have a superstar like him, it is about him bringing his extra skills and fitting in that environment that we have built over the last seven years and to make us even better.
It is my job and the coaching staff to bring that element and bring a nice environment in the team that will help us to win.
Talk us through your team composition. Who are the players to watch out?
We got something in store for our fans. You could see the excitement on my face. I am really pleased with what we got out of the draft. We got what we were looking for and we are quite happy with what we have.
When you look at the overseas players that we have Rajapaksa, TKC, who have been with the Zalmi since the first season, and Roman Powell, who has become so mature over the last year and his form is crazy. Then you have Jimmy Neesham, who is in the final for Pretoria in the SA 20. You have a leg spinner out of Australia, Peter [Hatzoglou]. We have covered all the bases.
Locally, we have Mohammed Haris. I mean, look, I said it, you needed him when I was in Australia watching the World Cup, I said, you got to have him playing. The energy he brings at the top of the inning. We even have a minister in our lineup, Wahab [Riaz]. The experience he brings. Then Arshad [Iqbal], he has so much experience.
If we manage well, which I think we will do and put together an XI that will go out there and make Babar’s job easy that will help us win games and take us to the championship.
Zalmi can surprise a lot of teams in this tournament.
I do not think surprise; I think our reputation speaks for itself. I do not believe what we do is surprising. They do not call us the most consistent team for a reason. We do not do things by surprise. We have shown that we are a team to beat.
As I said, with us starting over again, the future is bright for our youngsters and Peshawar Zalmi.
You have been involved with the HBL PSL as a player, mentor and coach. How has been your journey?
It has been an amazing journey. I never forget the first time I saw this number, I think +92 is the area code, it was a young Javed Afridi sending me a message and welcoming me to Zalmi team after the auction. That started the relationship and it has been a great one.
The journey has been such that I feel like I’m at home. Zalmi will always be my home. If you cut my skin, you will see Zalmi blood coming out of it. That is how the journey has been.
I’ve become a household name because of Peshawar Zalmi. It is something I will always be thankful for and the icing on the cake was being able to play a part in bringing cricket back here through the HBL PSL.
I remember back in 2017, when Marlon Samuels, [Dawid] Malan, Chris Jordan and myself won the cup and flew out, we said it was a small step in the right direction. To be part of something that’s bigger than cricket in itself by fast tracking [the return of international cricket to Pakistan] with Australia, South Africa, England, Sri Lanka, the West Indies [coming here].
The fans here can now watch Babar Azam score a hundred and Shaheen Shah Afridi take five wickets, it is something special. I do not think they ever saw Misbah [ul-Haq] score a Test hundred here, but it gives me joy to know I was part of something special.
What are your thoughts on the evolution of the HBL PSL?
I think it was either Dale Steyn or AB de Villers who said this is one of the toughest leagues in the world because of the quality of the local bowlers in Pakistan. There are so many talents for Pakistan cricket.
I remember one called Hasan Ali, emerging player for us and two years later he is the number one ICC ODI bowler in the world. Then Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohammad Haris, all these young guys who come from Pakistan that’s the beauty of it to gain the experience from the internationals that come in the dressing room and impart the knowledge on to the locals.
When I sit at home and watch Hasan Ali swinging and helping Pakistan win Champions Trophy and all of the work come to fruition. It is special. That is what the league is supposed to do.