Otherwise a great spectacle, the fifth edition was first affected by rain in Punjab cities and then coronavirus fears in Karachi
The fifth edition of the HBL Pakistan Super League (PSL) being held entirely for the first time in Pakistan has entered an interesting stage. Multan Sultans are the only ones to have made it to the semi-finals (on Friday the Pakistan Cricket Board decided to replace play-offs with semi-finals). It means there will be 33 matches now instead of 34 as per original schedule and the event will be squeezed for four days with the final to be held on March 18.
The PCB was forced to reschedule the event due to fear of deadly coronavirus which has wreaked havoc throughout the world as flights have been suspended and major sporting events postponed.
The PCB, after consultation with the Sindh government on Thursday, decided to hold the rest of Karachi-leg matches without spectators. The Board is yet to decide whether Lahore matches will be held without crowds or not. This will be decided after taking input from the Punjab government.
This is a big global issue. The PSL-5 was further affected when on Friday ten overseas players and one coach decided to withdraw from the rest of the spectacle. They are Alex Hales (Karachi Kings), Rilee Rossouw and James Vince (Multan Sultans), Tom Banton, Carlos Brathwaite, Liam Dawson, James Foster (coach), Lewis Gregory and Liam Livingstone (all Peshawar Zalmi), Jason Roy and Tymal Mills (Quetta Gladiators).
More overseas players are expected to withdraw.
Till writing of this piece the rest of the five outfits were fighting for the remaining three spots. Lahore Qalandars, powered by hard-hitting Ben Dunk, unlike in the previous four seasons, have done a good job so far and are expected to qualify for the semi-finals. But they will have to beat Multan Sultans in their last outing. If Sultans beat Qalandars and Karachi Kings overpower Islamabad United, this will create an opportunity for Gladiators to qualify for the knock-out stage provided they beat Karachi Kings.
So far Pakistan’s limited-over cricket skipper Babar Azam has done a fine job for Karachi Kings. He leads the batting chart with 294 runs which include three fifties. Dunk, who hit a record 12 sixes in a match this season and lifted Qalandars, has scored 266 in seven outings, having struck two big fifties.
Luke Ronchi of Islamabad United follows with 266, Islamabad United’s skipper Shadab Khan with 251 and Kamran Akmal of Zalmi with 249. Akmal and Multan Sultans’ Rossouw are the only players to have hit a century — both in front of their home crowds.
Gladiators’ Mohammad Hasnain leads the bowling chart with 14 wickets, Shaheen Afridi of Qalandars has taken 11, while Imran Tahir (Sultans), Mohammad Amir (Karachi Kings) and Wahab Riaz (Zalmi) have taken ten wickets each.
Haider Ali, a hard-hitting elegant batsman of Peshawar Zalmi, is the biggest find of this event. Attock-born Haider, who has scored 238 runs in eight innings, should be taken by the PCB under its wings for grooming. Since the first edition in 2016 some good talent has been coming up. Leggie Shadab Khan’s brilliant performance with the bat is also a big plus of this event. Shadab, who leads two-time champions Islamabad United, should be promoted in batting order in T20 cricket when he represents Pakistan in international circuit. During Sri Lanka’s tour of Pakistan, Shadab had pledged that he would try to express himself in batting. He seems now a batting all-rounder.
The schedule of the event was not good. Some of the vital matches were ruined by rain in Rawalpindi and Lahore that damaged the position of some teams, particularly Quetta Gladiators.
In the era of technology it was not difficult to assess the weather situation and some matches which were hit by rain in Punjab could have been shifted to Karachi.
Zalmi changed both their skipper and coach during the season. Darren Sammy, because of his fitness issues, was appointed as head coach for two years while Wahab Riaz was appointed as skipper in place of Sammy, who had guided the West Indies to two T20 world titles.
Although it is a franchise cricket, still discipline should be tightly maintained. The controversial video of Zalmi’s Hasan Ali and leggie Yasir Shah did not give a good message. These are Pakistan’s top players and they should be role models for youngsters. Leaving the issue of coronavirus aside, the event seems good as far as crowd attendance is concerned. Some good crowds were seen in all four centres. The event has in fact opened doors for foreign nations to come. It will help bring more international cricket to Pakistan.
Despite fears of coronavirus, a huge crowd witnessed the vital showdown between Karachi Kings and Lahore Qalandars at the National Stadium on Thursday with adequate precautionary measures.