BY SHAHJAHAN KHURRAM
DUBAI: Islamabad United will certainly be hurting when it comes to losing Sharjeel Khan, Khalid Latif and Mohammad Asif after the infamous fixing scandal that rocked PSL last year. However, if it is one thing we have learned about the men in red so far–and their daunting skipper–it is NEVER wise to count them out.
After having lifted the trophy in 2016, Islamabad United will once again hope to wrestle the trophy out of the hands of reigning champions Peshawar Zalmi (the side they play against first in the tournament).
However, this time around the side is without Sharjeel Khan (who can absolutely devastate any bowler with his penchant for scoring massive boundaries), Khalid Latif (the pinch-hitter who can score quick fifties in this format of the game) and Mohammad Irfan (the lanky fast bowler whose yorkers skittle and bouncers bamboozle batsmen.
A plethora of legends in Islamabad United’s camp
Down but not out–Islamabad United have plenty of veteran cricketers in their camp whom they can look up to for cricketing glory. Wasim Akram may have left the outfit to mentor the debuting Multan Sultans but his absence will not be felt a lot–considering none other than the Burewala Express, Waqar Younis, has filled in for him.
As gifted as he is, the responsibility to hone Islamabad United’s bowling attack into a lethal one does not fall on Waqar’s shoulders alone as another speedster–Shoaib Akhtar (Rawalpindi Express) is the side’s bowling coach.
With the lively Dean Jones as the Head Coach, great things are expected of Islamabad United in the upcoming PSL 3. Islamabad’s skipper is Misbah-ul-Haq who has mentored the likes of Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Shadab Khan and Rumman Raees–among others.
All eyes on Captain Cool, Misbah-ul-Haq
Misbah-ul-Haq has been defying the odds and battling criticism ever since he first held the reins of the national cricket team. Misbah has been criticised for being too calm on the field and being on the defensive rather too frequently.
Nothing can be farther from the truth. Misbah-ul-Haq has always held his own in the face of aggressive bowling when none other dared to stand with him at the other end of the crease. Misbah has seldom found an opening pair in whichever team he captains, to give the side a solid start.
The captain is certainly ageing but still remains quite relevant to this format of the game. Misbah-ul-Haq remains one of two captains who have lifted the PSL trophy which certainly is evidence of the fact that he does understand the 20-over format of the game rather too well.
Years of captaining a side that has not often scored more than 250 runs in an innings, Misbah is used to banking on his bowlers to win the game for him. He knows how and when to utilize which bowler for what batsman. With a second PSL trophy in his belt, the former test captain will certainly smash the record books for a long time to come.
Islamabad United’s players to watch out for
If you’re a supporter of any other side than Islamabad United–this section is for you. Islamabad United have a host of cricketers that can dent any franchise in the tournament in no time. With the right mix fo international and local players that are fast bowlers, spinners, pinch-hitters and defensive batsmen, the other five teams should be war of the PSL 2016 champions.
Here are some Islamabad United players to watch out for:-
1. Misbah-ul-Haq (Captain)
We have discussed Misbah’s captaincy credentials above in great detail so let’s not repeat that again. However, the bearded captain certainly can hit the ball for lofty sixes and fours (as he showed in the exhibition match against Quetta Gladiators) when the situation requires it.
Misbah’s defence is stellar which means that even in a T20 game, when a batting collapse occurs, Misbah can always stick it out on the crease and batter the other side in the final overs of the game.
2. Mohammad Sami
Sami has not been able to secure a place in the national squad for quite some time now but if it is one thing that should not be doubted about him is that he is lethal when it comes to bowling at the local pitches.
Mohammad Sami has performed well in both the preceding PSL tournaments. Not only has he taken plenty of wickets but bowled economically to contain batsmen when they are at their dangerous best. While Sami may have been a spent force, his sheer pace makes him a big gun when it comes to the T20 format of the game.
3. Shadab Khan
He’s certainly the rising star that has captivated us all in the past one year. Shadab Khan has spun his way to the top of the ladder when it comes to Pakistani spin bowling. It was after PSL 2 that Shadab Khan was discovered and ever since then he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.
Shadab Khan is THE weapon every PSL captain would wish was in his armoury. With a string of variations at his disposal (the Googly, Wrong’un, arm ball) Shadab ensures early on that no batsman gets comfortable at the crease.
His Googly is certainly a feared one considering that he disguises it quite well rather for any batsman to pick it. He’s won games for Pakistan around the world (such as the Champions Trophy) and also plays for Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash League.
Shadab Khan may be relatively new to the game but he certainly has a lot of experience under his belt. It would be interesting to see how the spin wizard troubles batsmen on the pitches of UAE.
4. Rumman Raees (Vice-Captain)
Rumman Raees has always delivered when he was called upon to do so. The all-rounder is a valuable edition when it comes to T20 cricket. Like Shadab Khan, he also has a number of variations to his credit such as the slow ball, the off and leg cutters to go along with his deadly line and length.
Though Rumman could do well with some more pace, his short-pitched balls do induce wickets every now and then. He can be handy with the bat as well when it comes to it but is certainly a better bowler than batsman, all would agree.
Ever since last year’s PSL, he has played a couple of international games for Pakistan (including the semi-final against England at the ICC Champions Trophy 2017) and performed exceedingly well. Rumman is one of the emerging talents of the last PSL and has a lot to prove still in his career.
5. Sam Billings (wicket-keeper)
The 26-year-old English wicket-keeper has a knack for hitting big sixes and fours during the closing stages of the limited overs format of the game. When Sam Billings lets loose, he can certainly put a good thrashing to the bowlers.
Any side that wishes Islamabad United reduced to a low score would have to contain this batsman.
6. Samuel Badree
He is one of the most dangerous bowlers in the T20 format. Samuael Badree has claimed more than 180 victims when it comes to T20 cricket. With 184 matches under his belt, he is also a seasoned campaigner–something that Islamabad United can greatly benefit from.
The West Indian performed well for Islamabad United in the last PSL and looks to do more damage this time around. In 2016, when West Indies won the T20 World Cup, Badree used to open the bowling for his side which ultimately led them to winning the tournament.
7. Faheem Ashraf
Fahim made a name for himself earlier last year when he blasted Bangladesh to secure a near-impossible victory for Pakistan just before the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 began.
He does have the ability to pick up wickets as well but Faheem Ashraf’s penchant for hitting the ball out of the park on numerous counts is what makes him such a dangerous Islamabad United player.
8. Andre Russell
He happens to be the only bowler in the T20 format who has grabbed four wickets in as many balls. The West Indian lacks consistency but remains a force to be reckoned with considering his flair for scoring lightening fast fifties.
Story first published: 21st February 2018