PSL 2021: Multan Sultans – An Unexpected New PSL Champion

After finishing top of the PSL 5 table but being eliminated in the playoffs, the Sultans returned to capture the title.

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Multan Sultans won the sixth edition of the PSL with a playing XI that is the very antithesis of a modern T20 playing side. It’s 2021; who utilizes a lineup with six batsmen and no batting to speak of beyond that? That was what everyone was (probably) thinking when the Sultans announced their first playing XI of the Abu Dhabi leg. But two weeks later, it was Mohammad Rizwan who was triumphantly holding the PSL trophy on the winners’ podium. So how did they do it?

Karachi Leg

During the first leg of the tournament (before the COVID-enforced break), the Sultans didn’t fare well. By the time the league was brought to a halt, the Andy Flower-coached side had won only 1 of their 5 matches. Here, they opted for a “modern” T20 lineup with Carlos Brathwaite and Shahid Afridi at #7 and #8, making the batting lineup deep in theory. However, while Brathwaite mustered a few decent performances, the aging Afridi struggled with both bat and ball.

With this combination not really working out well, the Sultans’ bowling lineup primarily struggled. The bowling looked hapless, and none of the teams had a higher bowling strike rate in the Karachi leg than Multan Sultans (21.5), while their economy (9.1) was rather dismal too. They struggled to pick up wickets in the powerplay and conceded 11+ RPO at the death – a horrible combination.

On the bright side, the batting was working. Led by Mohammad Rizwan’s ridiculous consistency at the top and aided by contributions from James Vince and Sohaib Maqsood, Multan mustered up decent totals in Karachi. Still, their lower order struggled, and the deep batting lineup didn’t bring the desired results, with the Sultans being the worst batting side at the death. At the same time, the lack of potency in the bowling lineup and lost tosses ensured that the Sultans were in for a rough ride. Hence, you can say that the break arrived at the perfect time…

Enforced Changes

The Sultans returned for the UAE leg of the tournament with some (apparent) big blows to their squad. Chris Lynn and James Vince were unavailable, so Rizwan needed new accomplices at the top of the order. With Carlos Brathwaite also not available and Shahid Afridi injured, Andy Flower suddenly had a dilemma. His batting side had no depth whatsoever.

As Flower later stated at the conclusion of the tournament, this may have inadvertently helped his side. Unwilling to further weaken their XI by playing bits and pieces players, the Sultans went all out for victory, relying on their batsmen and bowlers to play their individual roles. Sohail Tanvir, a decent #8 in his heyday but probably more of a #9 nowadays, was accompanied by no less than four #11s. Look around the franchise T20 world, and you’re unlikely to find a weaker tail.

Yet, Mohammad Rizwan and Andy Flower (and the rest of the management) made it work.

Sohaib Maqsood

Undoubtedly the tournament’s best player with his impactful performances, Maqsood was the most critical factor for the Sultans’ success. No non-opener has ever scored as many runs or fifties in a PSL season.

Most Runs by Non-Openers in a PSL Season

Season

Player

Inns

Runs

Avg

SR

BPB

50+

PSL 6

Sohaib Maqsood

12

428

47.6

156.8

4.48

5

PSL 6

Shoaib Malik

13

354

35.4

149.4

5.15

2

PSL 4

Colin Ingram

11

344

34.4

164.6

4.18

2

PSL 3

Babar Azam

10

336

37.3

120.4

7.54

4

PSL 1

Umar Akmal

7

335

83.8

157.3

4.84

4

PSL 1

Ravi Bopara

8

329

54.8

132.1

7.78

2

PSL 6

Sarfaraz Ahmed

9

314

52.3

139.6

5.49

3

PSL 5

Mohammad Hafeez

12

312

39.0

125.3

6.38

2

PSL 5

Ben Dunk

10

300

37.5

167.6

4.37

2

PSL 4

Rilee Rossouw

12

295

32.8

135.9

5.29

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The right-hander provided the perfect blend of aggression and stability with his performances at #3. After already making a fifty earlier this season at #4, he was given the #3 spot due to Vince’s unavailability. He cashed in brilliantly. Maqsood’s powerplay strike rate of 167 was the best by a long margin among local batsmen, with only Alex Halex and Hazratullah Zazai bettering it overall. His powerplay numbers in T20s, in general, are excellent – in terms of the scoring rate as well as the volume, showing why he must be in consideration for a top-order slot in Pakistan’s T20I side.

It wasn’t just hit and giggle performances, though. The 34-year-old crossed 30 on no less than 8 occasions, only being dismissed early on 4 times in 12 matches. Moreover, he was by far the best local batsman against pace, averaging in excess of 50 against the faster men, striking at almost 160, with an exceptionally low dot ball percentage and an almost unrivaled rate of boundary hitting.

The Shahnawaz Dahani Magic

Being the newest franchise in a league like the PSL comes with certain disadvantages. One of them is that the existing teams already have much of the very best players signed up, and they usually retain them. Thus, the Sultans have had a problem from the start: no proper strike bowler. With the second pick in the emerging round of the PSL 6 draft, they must have had their sights on Larkana’s Shahnawaz Dahani. Quetta had the first pick, and with an army of young pacers at their disposal, they were perhaps unlikely to take Dahani. Sure enough, they went with Saim Ayub, and the Larkana Express ended up at the Sultans.

With Dahani in the lineup, Multan took a radical step. Understanding they have no strike bowling option, with Sohail Tanvir past his best, they decided not to try and give the Larkana youngster the ‘easy’ overs. Rather, he was immediately tasked with bowling in all stages, especially the powerplay and at the death, a role usually reserved for the likes of Hasan Ali, aka established strike bowlers.

In his first two matches, he bowled 7 out of 8 overs in the powerplay or at the death. However, he reverted to bowling more in the middle overs later on, especially due to a high economy rate at the death – an aspect of his game that still needs work. The middle is where he would eventually thrive, almost in an enforcer-like role. Thus, batsmen often found it difficult to play controlled shots, especially with him getting awkward bounce due to his action. No bowler had a better strike rate in the middle overs. The 22-year-old was particularly effective against left-handers, averaging under 10 against them with 8 scalps in just 59 balls.

Phase

Wkts

Avg

SR

Econ

Powerplay

4

24.8

22.5

6.6

Middle

10

13.3

9.2

8.7

Death

6

18.0

10.0

10.8

Dahani brings a brilliant persona to the field with lots of energy, and Multan will be desperate for him to continue to develop and become their very own strike bowler in the future. He has all the ingredients to do that, as long as he keeps working hard and learning. Having the likes of Shane Bond and Jofra Archer as role models is a good start! After just one season at the Sultans, he is now their third-highest wicket-taker with 20 wickets. Only Imran Tahir (37) and Sohail Tanvir (26) have more, and both have represented the PSL’s latest champions for three seasons apiece…

Bowling Superiority

If the Sultans’ bowling was poor, even terrible at times during the Karachi leg, there was a 180-degree reversal during the Abu Dhabi leg. Mohammad Rizwan’s side became the best bowling side by a long margin. They did that courtesy of playing five proper bowlers with defined roles. There was only one phase where any team bettered the Sultans in the UAE, and that was the Qalandars in the powerplay, with James Faulkner having a blinder alongside Shaheen Shah Afridi’s usual powerplay excellence.

Best Bowling Teams in UAE by Phases

Team

Avg

SR

Econ

Overall

Multan Sultans

16.1

12.8

7.54

Powerplay

Lahore Qalandars

17.9

16.6

6.47

Multan Sultans

23.9

21.0

6.83

Middle

Multan Sultans

16.1

12.3

7.88

Death

Multan Sultans

9.9

7.5

7.93

Only seven bowlers took 10 or more wickets during the UAE leg of the tournament. Well, guess what? Four of them were from the Sultans. The fifth was Sohail Tanvir, who only took five wickets yet still put in a Man of the Match performance in the Qualifier against Islamabad United. He also made an enterprising 26* in the important group stage match against the Qalandars, which ultimately played a crucial role in both teams’ respective points table positions.

Top Wicket Takers in PSL 6 (Abu Dhabi)

Bowler

Inns

Wkts

Avg

SR

Econ

James Faulkner

6

13

12.0

11.1

6.50

Shahnawaz Dahani

7

11

17.0

12.1

8.43

Imran Tahir

6

11

13.1

11.5

6.80

Imran Khan

6

11

14.9

12.5

7.16

Wahab Riaz

8

10

23.4

15.7

8.98

Rashid Khan

6

10

15.9

17.5

5.47

Blessing Muzarabani

6

10

14.4

11.2

7.71

The Sultans didn’t really have a dedicated wicket-taker for the powerplay. Dahani and Imran were the most successful in that phase for them across the season, with 4 and 3 powerplay wickets apiece. However, they did keep the runs down in the powerplay, and then the real magic happened in the middle overs, where they strangled teams. Imran bowled wicket to wicket, Dahani attacked batsmen with his pace and awkward bounce, with Muzarabani doing a mixture of both. Then, of course, there was the small matter of countering Imran Tahir for opposition teams… By the time they arrived at the death overs, most teams were already down to their lower order. Thus, with no apparent weakness, the Sultans had the most complete attack in the league, at least for the second leg.

Mohammad Rizwan (and the Rest)

When you’re playing with only six batsmen, that batting anchor becomes all the more crucial. In the first leg of the tournament, Rizwan was imperious, top-scoring with 297 runs @ 60 (SR 140). He then started well in UAE before going through a lean patch toward the end of the tournament (203 runs @ 34, SR 113). Still, no one was as stable as Rizwan during the powerplays in PSL 6. He was only dismissed twice in the first six overs of the whole tournament, which proved crucial to the Sultans’ strategy.

Batsmen in Powerplays in PSL 6

Batsman

Avg

SR

Runs

Mohammad Rizwan

129.5

136.3

259

Kamran Akmal

26.6

120.3

213

Sharjeel Khan

26.7

119.9

187

Babar Azam

81.0

110.2

162

Colin Munro

53.3

165.0

160

Fakhar Zaman

24.5

103.5

147

Alex Hales

63.0

190.9

126

Sohail Akhtar

17.9

120.2

125

Shan Masood’s runs proved to be particularly crucial toward the knockout stages of the tournament. Rilee Rossouw, despite his struggles during the whole tournament, played two pivotal knocks. Johnson Charles played his role and scored some quick runs, while Khushdil Shah also contributed two important knocks. Most importantly, all the batsmen batted at high strike rates, with Rizwan’s anchoring at the top giving them the freedom to do so.

Conclusion

When that first lineup was announced for the Abu Dhabi leg, not many would have thought they would go all the way. Yet, being pushed into a corner and making some hard decisions proved to work out just fine for them. Still, the Sultans will undoubtedly look to better balance their lineup next year. Relying on Shahid Afridi as a solid #7/8 option who bowls his full four overs may not be feasible anymore while compromising on batting so much is unlikely to be a viable long-term strategy.

Still, they have many of the pieces of the puzzle figured out for next season. After topping the PSL 5 table and ending up as PSL 6 winners, there’s no telling what the Sultans will do next year. However, one thing is for sure: With the likes of United and Zalmi boasting strong records with good performances from the other franchises and now Sultans on the way up, the Pakistan Super League will only continue to get better – and stronger.

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