PSL 2019: Umar Akmal's resurgence and other major surprises from week one

Waseem Ahmed 19/02/2019
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Umar Akmal in action. Image credit - @thePSLt20/Twitter.

It has been an action-packed first week in the 2019 Pakistan Super League (PSL) to say the least.

After seven entertaining matches spread across four days, the league moves from Dubai to Sharjah ahead of an intriguing week two.

There has been no shortage of entertainment in the past seven games with plenty of them going right down to the wire. Many old experienced heads have turned on the style while a few newcomers have taken the league by storm.

Here, we take a look at some of the major surprises from week one.

Liam Livingstone dazzles on PSL debut

While Liam Livingstone’s exploits might be a name all too familiar to Lancashire supporters, the Englishman was hardly a known quantity at the international level before he was picked up by Karachi Kings in the PSL player draft last year.

It didn’t take too long for PSL fans to understand why Livingstone is so highly in demand in T20 leagues around the world these days with the opening batsman smashing 82 off just 43 balls on his Karachi debut.

The right-hander forged a record 157-run stand along with Babar Azam against Multan Sultans and managed to overshadow his opening partner with some sensational hitting that fetched him six sixes and as many boundaries.

No wonder then that the Rajasthan Royals have shelled out the big bucks to land the England batsman for the upcoming edition of the Indian Premier League.

Umar Akmal turns back the clock

Once heralded as one of the most promising batsmen to emerge from Pakistan, Akmal had ultimately ended up as a cautionary tale for ‘talent gone to waste’ with the multiple controversies that have followed him since his international debut.

No longer a part of the Pakistan set-up, Akmal was in danger of fading into obscurity despite being at an age where most batsmen usually hit their prime.  His last PSL season with Lahore Qalandars had been a disastrous one with the talented batsman scoring only 57 runs in his five appearances.

It appears Lahore’s loss is Quetta Gladiators’ gain with the right-hander putting up two excellent performances in his two outings so far. His unbeaten 50-ball 75 helped Quetta chase down a stiff total against Peshawar Zalmi and he followed that up with a fluent 44 in the win over Islamabad United.

Such have been his displays that skipper Sarfraz Ahmed has already starting talking up a potential Pakistan return for the batsman.

Umer Khan makes the most of Abrar Ahmed’s fitness woes

While several young Pakistan talents have made their marks in the first week, Umer Khan of Karachi Kings has perhaps been the most dramatic story. The 19-year-old left-arm orthodox spinner has gone for less than six runs an over in his two appearances and picked up three crucial wickets including that of Lahore ace AB de Villiers.

Umer wasn’t a part of the 20-man initial Karachi squad for the tournament and was only picked later from the franchise’s scouting and development programme where he was spotted by Rashid Latif.

Still, the youngster was firmly behind another young spinner in the form Abrar Ahmed when it came to the Karachi pecking order. It was only an injury to Ahmed that has provided Umer with his two opportunities and the youngster has grabbed it with both hands.

It will be interesting to see if the Rawalpindi-born teenager can keep up these displays as the tournament progresses.

Another fine display by Umer. Image - @thePSLt20/Twitter.

Another fine display by Umer. Image – @thePSLt20/Twitter.

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PSL 2019: Multan Sultans have task cut out against near-perfect Quetta Gladiators

Waseem Ahmed 19/02/2019
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Shahid Afrid. Image: @thePSLt20/Twitter

After an exhilarating start at Dubai, the 2019 edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) now moves to Sharjah with Multan Sultans set to take on Quetta Gladiators on Wednesday.

Having tasted a narrow defeat against Karachi Kings in their PSL opener, Multan bounced back strongly with a comprehensive five-wicket win over defending champions Islamabad United.

One of the chief architects of Multan’s win over Islamabad United was Shahid Afridi with the veteran all-rounder producing a vintage display. While Afridi’s form with both bat and ball augurs well for the revamped franchise, the Sultans are set to be further bolstered by the arrival of Dan Christian following the completion of his Big Bash League duties.

Fresh from his man-of-the-match display for Melbourne Renegades in the final, Christian’s arrival will open up plenty of options for skipper Shoaib Malik with the balance he can provide to the side.

The key for Multan though, will be to get the best out of Andre Russell who has so far only showed glimpses of his immense talents in the two matches so far. If the star West Indies man can get firing on all cylinders, it would be hard for any team to tackle Multan with their multiple all-round options.

In Mohammad Irfan and Junaid Khan, they already have a pace attack of note while youngster Ali Shafiq showed plenty of promise in the win over Islamabad. Most of Multan’s bases are starting to get covered although a few holes remain in the top-order.

Despite their all-round options, Multan will have their task cut out against a Quetta side which has made a blazing start to their campaign and have established themselves as the early league leaders.

With two wins out of two, the Gladiators are already looking like the team to beat in the PSL with Sarfraz Ahmed and his men brushing aside the challenges posed by Peshawar Zalmi and Islamabad United with ease.

In both the wins, Quetta managed to restrict the opposition to a total below 160 before their batsmen completed the job in comprehensive fashion. In the batting department, it has been Umar Akmal who has led the charge with two notable performances, especially his 50-ball 75 in the win over Peshawar.

While Akmal has been excellent with the bat, Shane Watson has started to come into his own with his 55-ball 81 setting up a comfortable win against Islamabad. In the bowling department, Mohammad Nawaz and Sohail Tanvir have impressed while Australia leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed showed his worth a three-wicket haul in the last match.

One worry for Quetta though will be the form of opener Ahmed Shehzad who was dismissed for a golden duck against Peshawar before falling for just two against Islamabad.

TEAM NEWS

With the Big Bash League coming to a close on Sunday, both teams will have some fresh faces in the squad.

For Multan, Christian should return and slot straight into the playing XI. Quetta, meanwhile, will welcome the arrivals of all-rounder Dwayne Bravo and left-arm pacer Harry Gurney.

LIKELY XIs

Multan Sultans: Shan Masood, Johnson Charles (wk), Laurie Evans, Shoaib Malik (c), Hammad Azam, Andre Russell, Dan Christian, Shahid Afridi, Ali Shafiq, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan

Quetta Gladiators: Shane Watson, Ahmed Shehzad, Rilee Rossouw, Umar Akmal, Sarfraz Ahmed (c and wk), Dwayne Bravo, Mohammad Nawaz, Ghulam Mudassar, Sohail Tanvir, Mohammad Irfan Jr, Fawad Ahmed

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PSL 2019 won't feel right until AB de Villiers kicks into gear

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All smiles: AB de Villiers with Hasan Ali. [Image credit: Twitter/@lahoreqalandars]

Wherever AB de Villiers goes, he’s one of the biggest stars, if not the biggest, and the Pakistan Super League is no different.

Yet the South African hasn’t quite hit the ground running in PSL 2019, scoring just 41 runs in three games for Lahore Qalandars across the opening weekend of the tournament, with a top score of 24. De Villiers’ tally of sixes, one, is the same as the number of single-digit dismissals he has so far this season.

It started with a promising cameo, that innings of 24 in the opener coming off of 17 balls and looking like a sign of things to come. But he was dismissed cheaply in Lahore’s next game, against Karachi Kings, and an innings of 14 off 8 against Peshawar Zalmi flattered to deceive – especially since the team were bowled out for 78.  The fans who showed up for the opening weekend must be terribly disappointed.

But it’s not just the batting that is a concern for De Villiers, who celebrated his 35th birthday on Sunday. The South African was also thrust into the captaincy role after Mohammed Hafeez suffered an injury in the game against Karachi, and now has that disastrous loss against Peshawar on his record. There was little he could do with his fellow batsmen failing so spectacularly and leaving their bowlers – and captain ABD – with such a small target to defend, but the loss will have stung nonetheless.

There are some positives to take though; he looked fluent in the two innings where he did get going, even if he couldn’t stay at the crease long enough to deliver a De Villiers special. And it was his decision to trust young pacer Haris Rauf against Karachi at the death, when Lahore were defending just 139. Rauf came up with the goods, picking up four wickets in nine balls to kill off Karachi’s hopes.

But something about the PSL just won’t feel right until De Villiers truly kicks into gear.

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