After three wins in four matches (the other being abandoned), Karachi Kings got a taste of what a defeat felt like when they suffered an eight-wicket loss to 2016 winners Islamabad United on Sunday evening.
There was a notable absentee in Karachi line-up with top wicket-taker Shahid Afridi ruled out with a knee injury although reports suggest he could be back in time for the play-offs.
Afridi has proven to be a key player, particularly with the ball, taking six scalps and with his absence, it has led to former Pakistan captain Muhammad Yousuf expressing his concern that Karachi could struggle.
But it shouldn’t be all doom and gloom for Mickey Arthur’s side.
Here, we look at three reasons why Karachi Kings should still be a force over the next three weeks.
Eoin Morgan to boost batting line-up
Karachi Kings’ batting line-up is set to be bolstered by the arrival of Eoin Morgan. Karachi have been without their talismanic batsmen due to his commitments with England’s ODI side in New Zealand, but from Sunday, he will surely add more fire power to their attack.
No player has shone with the bat on a consistent basis for Karachi despite their three wins.
But Morgan could well be that man that can take the game away from the opposition. He’s done it before and continues to show his class as illustrated by his unbeaten 80 from 46 deliveries in the T20 against New Zealand recently.
Form of Mohammad Amir, Imad Wasim and Tymal Mills
While Sunday’s margin of defeat suggested Shahid Afridi was badly missed, Karachi have enough quality within their bowlers to deal with his absence. There will be more responsibility falling on the shoulders of spinner and captain Imad Wasim to pick up the wickets. The 29-year-old has had three scalps so far and his last outing showed he has big boots to fill after going wicketless against Islamabad.
But Karachi are fortunate to have Mohammad Amir (four), English pacer Tymal Mills (five) and young Pakistani medium pacer Mohammad Irfan (five) who have been more successful this season. They have caused batsmen plenty of problems with their pace and swing and that should continue for the remainder of the tournament.
A man who has been at the helm for the last two editions of the PSL, Arthur has shown constant improvements to a Karachi side that finished fourth in 2016. Twelve months later, the South African guided his side to a third-place finish – and this year after five matches, they sit top of the table with Multan Sultans with three wins. Although there’s a long way to go, Athur possesses all the skills and knowledge to guide them to a first title. You just have to look at how Pakistan bounced back from their opening thrashing to India to clinch the ICC Champions Trophy triumph last year.
Put into bat first after the Sultans skipper Shoaib Malik won the toss, the Gladiators were bundled out for just 102 in under 16 overs with only Shane Watson (19), Sarfraz Ahmed (30) and Mahmudullah (15) managing to get into double figures.
In reply, the Multan Sultans coasted to victory, losing only wicket in the process as Kumar Sangakkara remained unbeaten on 51.
Here are the key moments from Saturday’s clash at Sharjah.
TANVIR AND JUNAID ROCK QUETTA
After Mohammad Irfan and Sohail Tanvir started excellently with the ball, the pressure grew on Quetta’s openers. It eventually told when Umar Amin slashed Tanvir straight into the hands of third-man in the fourth over.
With the very first delivery of the next over, Junaid Khan bowled Rameez Raja Jr to reduce Quetta to 28-2. When Watson holed out in the deep while trying to pull Junaid, the top-order was back in the pavilion for not a lot.
— PTV Sports (@PTVSp0rts) March 3, 2018
TAHIR’S HAT-TRICK CLEANS UP THE TAIL
Quetta were 108-7 when leg-spinners Imran Tahir bowled the 16th over. The South African cleaned up Hasan Khan’s stumps with his second delivery and then did the same to John Hastings in the subsequent ball as the Australian failed to read the wrong-one.
The veteran leg-spinner went on his trademark celebratory run before returning to the crease for his hat-trick ball where Rahat Ali stood in front of him. Tahir pinned him on the crease with a skidder and went off on another exuberant celebratory run as the umpire raised his finger, resulting in the third hat-trick in PSL history.
— PakistanSuperLeague (@thePSLt20) March 3, 2018
HASAN KHAN TRIES HARD
Defending a paltry 102, the task for the Quetta Gladiators’ bowlers was difficult. They failed to find much joy though, as Multan batsmen played risk-free cricket.
Quetta’s only wicket came in the 11th over when Ahmed Shehzad ventured down the track to Hasan Khan but miscued his shot to long-on.
SANGAKKARA STEERS CHASE EXPERTLY
With big hits not required, Multan opener Sangakkara made full use of his experience to anchor the innings.
The elegant left-hander stuck to orthodox shots as he notched up an unbeaten half-century with the help of five crisp hits to the fence. The experienced batsman never gave a sniff of an opportunity to the Quetta bowlers.
— Fazeela Saba (@FazeelaSaba1) March 3, 2018
The Pakistan Super League is a unique cricket product. The tournament is split across the UAE and Pakistan and is at the forefront of the latter’s attempt to bring meaningful international cricket back in the country.
On the cricket field, another aspect separates PSL from other premier T20 leagues in the world. And that’s team scores, or more specifically low totals.
T20 cricket is synonymous with big hitting, massive sixes and whirlwind knocks where bowlers pretty much wander around as glorified bowling machines.
In last year’s Indian Premier League, by far the most prominent T20 league in the world, teams reached or crossed 180 on 32 occasions out of 60 matches. In the Big Bash League this season, the total of 180 was reached or crossed 17 times in 43 matches.
The T20 blast in England had a staggering 26 scores of 200 or more this season. The Bangladesh Premier League had 14 instances of team totals crossing 180. The Caribbean Premier League is the only other exception, with four totals more than 180 in 2017.
In two seasons and a bit in the PSL, 180 has been crossed 10 times. That’s 10 times in more than 60 matches across three seasons. IPL and BBL cross this mark halfway through a single season.
There are two distinct reasons for such numbers. Firstly, the wickets in this time of the year in the UAE are not the flattest to bat on. Intermittent rain and sluggish surfaces in Sharjah and sometimes in Dubai during the beginning of the year result in bowlers, be it fast bowlers or spinners, having a greater say in proceedings than bowlers in, say, Bangalore or Brisbane.
Also, Pakistan’s core strength remains bowling – pace bowling in particular – and that means most teams have a greater pool of homegrown quality bowlers than hard-hitting all-rounders or attacking openers.
This season in the PSL, no team has reached 180 so far. The match between Islamabad United and Lahore Qalandars in Sharjah on Friday is a case in point, with Islamabad beating Lahore in a Super Over after stopping the Qalandars from overhauling their total of 121.
When you look at major T20 leagues across the world, the six-hitting spectacle becomes a bit stale after one point. Fifties and even some centuries, in the case of IPL, are forgotten as there are just so many of them. But every batsman who crosses 50 in the PSL knows he has earned every bit of it on tricky wickets against world class bowling.
Just ask Kiwi batting stalwart Brendon McCullum. ‘Baz’ averaged 13.2 in the PSL last season and dragged his season average to 27 this year after a hard-fought 34 in the Super Over match against Islamabad.
And that is what sets PSL apart from the rest of the pack. In a world intent on devouring every last bit of confidence in bowlers by sending them to the abattoir of Twenty20, PSL is a safe haven for those who make their living hurling a cricket ball.