The third edition of the Pakistan Super League is set to begin in style in Dubai on Thursday evening, with the UAE being ready to host the bulk of the four-week T20 action which will culminate in Karachi on March 25.
The tournament itself is a shop window for up and coming stars, as well as seasoned performers, to showcase their skills in front of a passionate fan base.
Here, we shine the light on three performers who are likely to earn plenty of plaudits over the next few weeks.
FAKHAR ZAMAN (LAHORE QALANDARS)
It’s amazing to think the left-handed opener was barely known this time last year, even amongst the most devoted Pakistan cricket observers. For the former Navy serviceman, last year’s Pakistan Super League experience was the springboard to his international career. Indeed, the talent starred for strugglers Lahore Qalandars and stood out after his 33-ball 56 against Karachi Kings. Off the back of that, the Mardan-born batter rose to prominence.
His contributions during the T20I tour of West Indies were nondescript, but his efforts as one of the mainstays in Pakistan’s remarkable surge to Champions Trophy success will live long in the memory. His maiden ODI hundred, 114, in the final against arch-rivals India was all but match-winning, and he’s been pretty much a model of consistency since then. Fakhar’s story goes to show performing in the PSL has its rewards and playing under a man like Brendon McCullum again should help the 27-year-old.
SHADAB KHAN (ISLAMABAD UNITED)
While the first edition of the PSL unearthed pace ace Hasan Ali, the second brought to light the prodigious talent of the young leg-spinner. Still only 19, Khan’s breakthrough was pretty staggering, as was his ability and variation with the ball. He’s quickly become a key part of the national Twenty20 side, taking an impressive 19 wickets in 13 matches at an average of 16.15.
He’s faired well in ODIs too and has that solitary Test match to his name from last year. His form coming in has been okay and he recorded a brace of wickets in each of the last two T20I clashes with New Zealand. He should play a key role for Misbah’s men and help the inaugural winner’s to go deep but needs to not over-play his wrong’un and have other deliveries up his sleeve against some explosive batsmen.
BABAR AZAM (KARACHI KINGS)
One of the brand names of Pakistan Cricket, the 23-year-old comes into the PSL off the back of two consecutive hundreds for Islamabad. The batsman is still looking for his first Twenty20 hundred but will be a lynch pin in a Kings side coached by Micky Arthur and led by Imad Wasim.
Scores of 50* and 41 in the recent series with New Zealand mean Azam is as confident as he can be at the moment and don’t forget he is actually atop the ICC T20I batting rankings, leading the likes of Aaron Finch, Virat Kohli (in third) and New Zealand ace Colin Munro.
Dubai Sports City is gearing up as it prepares to host to this weekend the HBL Pakistan Super League at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium for the third successive year.
The seminal sporting event will see six of the best teams from the world of Pakistani cricket battle it out for supremacy at this world-class venue in bid to take home the coveted PSL Trophy.
In addition to defending champions Peshawar Zalmi (captained by Darren Sammy), the series includes regulars Lahore Qalandars, Karachi Kings, Islamabad United, and Quetta Gladiators. Joining the series for the first time will be the Multan Sultans, led by their new captain Shoaib Malik.
The spectators are guaranteed to catch their favourite star players in actions, as the 2018 tournament includes Brendon McCullum, Darren Sammy, Shahid Afridi, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Misbah ul Haq, Shoaib Malik, Kevin Peterson, Mohammed Amir, Hassan Ali, and Kieron Pollard.
They will all be fighting for the chance to win a range of beautifully designed trophies by Swarovski that include the Championship Trophy, Player of the Tournament, Best Player on the Field, Best Bowler of the Tournament, Best Batsman of the Tournament, the Safest Hand Award, as well as the Spirit of the Tournament Award.
The trophy was unveiled on Wednesday at Dubai International Stadium after it was delivered by helicopter to defending captain Darren Sammy of Peshawar Zalmi, who arrived with the five other team captains in an Uber Limousine, flanked by two Tesla vehicles.
As preparations are finalised for the tournament, Dubai Sports City’s own ICC Academy has welcomed all the teams daily to train in their gym facilities and on their grounds, either in their own personal training sessions, in intra-team matches, or in practice matches with other teams.
The opening ceremony of the event commences at 6pm on Thursday the 22nd, and will feature performances by Jason Derulo, Ali Zafar, Abida Praveen, Shehzad Roy, and the Sachal Performance Orchestra, with organisers promising some additional surprise entertainment elements.
The ceremony will raise the curtain on the first match of the tournament between defending champions Peshawar Zalmi and Multan Sultans, taking place between 9pm to 12:30am.
Defending champions Peshawar Zalmi will hope for a smooth start to their title defence when they take on debutants Multan Sultans in the opening match of the third edition of the Pakistan Super League on Thursday.
Peshawar, led by charismatic West Indies all-rounder Darren Sammy, have obvious playing experience but Multan have a settled unit as well.
Led by all-rounder Shoaib Malik, Multan have fine hitting power at the top of the order in Ahmed Shehzad and Shan Masood along with Kieron Pollard in the middle.
Malik will rely on the experience of left-arm seamer Sohail Tanvir and South African leggie Imran Tahir to lead the way with the ball. However, Tahir hasn’t had the greatest of seasons.
Peshawar, on the other hand, have a stronger bowling attack with Hasan Ali and Wahab Riaz leading the pace battery. Mohammad Hafeez, Tamim Iqbal and Haris Sohail provide solidity in the batting department.
The match will start at 21:00 at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, after a star-studded opening ceremony that is scheduled to kick off at 19:00.
Renowned Sufi singer Abida Parveen, American artist Jason Derulo and fellow singers Ali Zafar and Shehzad Roy will usher in the third edition of the tournament. Also, the Sachal Orchestra will perform folk songs at the venue.