PSL 2021: Why Did Karachi Kings’ Title Defense Fall Flat?

PSL 5 Champions Karachi Kings only remained champions for around 7 months as the were eliminated by PZ in PSL 6.

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After the Karachi leg of PSL 6, Karachi Kings were sitting pretty atop the points table. Just around ten days later, they were in a must-win situation against the hapless Quetta Gladiators to avoid elimination, and they did that with some conviction. However, they fell at the next hurdle, rounding off a disappointing PSL season for the defending champions.

Bowling Problems

When Karachi Kings drafted their squad for PSL 6, it was apparent that they may run into trouble with the ball on occasion. The move to the UAE further exacerbated that, with Karachi Kings lacking a specialist spinner, besides the young and inexperienced Afghan Noor Ahmad. However, the Kings’ bowling struggled on the whole in both critical phases of the innings: powerplay and death overs.

Bowling Numbers for Teams in PSL 6

 

Avg

SR

RPO

Karachi Kings

31.8

21.0

9.08

Lahore Qalandars

24.6

17.9

8.26

Multan Sultans

21.3

15.6

8.21

Islamabad United

26.4

18.8

8.41

Quetta Gladiators

31.8

20.3

9.36

Peshawar Zalmi

27.5

18.6

8.85

As is apparent from the numbers, Karachi was almost as poor a bowling side as Quetta Gladiators, who finished bottom of the points table by a huge margin. When it comes to the rate of taking wickets (SR), they were the worst bowling team in PSL 6. Last season, Imad Wasim’s side was the most economical in PSL, with only Lahore Qalandars taking more powerplay wickets. A number of factors led to this downfall…

Mohammad Amir

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. There’s no escaping the fact that Mohammad Amir had a very poor season with the ball, despite a couple of good death overs at the back end of the tournament. Two powerplay wickets in 11 matches and an economy rate of 10+ at the death – these are not typical numbers for a bowler who was one of the best in the world in T20 cricket at his peak.

The Kings kept faith in Amir throughout the season, but the most crucial thing you need from a strike bowler – wickets upfront – did not come. Shadab Khan and Joe Denly. That’s it – those were his powerplay wickets in PSL 6, two batsmen who have barely been able to buy a run in T20 cricket this year.

Karachi Kings Bowlers in the Powerplay in PSL 6

Bowler

Balls

Wkts

Avg

SR

Eco

Waqas Maqsood

72

4

26.50

18.00

8.83

Imad Wasim

60

4

23.50

15.00

9.40

Mohammad Ilyas

48

3

21.33

16.00

8.00

Abbas Afridi

24

3

11.33

8.00

8.50

Mohammad Amir

132

2

81.50

66.00

7.41

Aamer Yamin

30

2

39.50

15.00

15.80

Noor Ahmad

12

1

18.00

12.00

9.00

Of all the bowlers who picked up wickets in powerplays of PSL 6, none had a poorer strike rate than Mohammad Amir. This allowed top-order batsmen to get set and launch later. All this culminated in Amir conceding 10 runs per over at the death, though the other bowlers hardly fared better, leading to a team death economy rate of 11.5.

The Other Bowlers

Player

Mat

Wkts

Avg

SR

Econ

Mohammad Ilyas

5

8

21.6

13.4

9.70

Arshad Iqbal

9

8

32.5

21.8

8.96

Waqas Maqsood

7

7

27.4

17.6

9.36

Imad Wasim

11

7

34.4

26.6

7.77

Mohammad Amir

11

5

69.8

50.0

8.37

Thisara Perera

3

4

14.0

10.5

8.00

Abbas Afridi

4

4

25.5

15.0

10.20

Noor Ahmad

4

4

28.3

22.5

7.53

Dan Christian

5

4

33.5

18.5

10.86

Mohammad Ilyas and Arshad Iqbal finished as the top wicket-takers for Karachi Kings, but neither was among the top 15 for the tournament. Therein lies the problem; they simply had no reliable strike bowler to pick up wickets. Mohammad Ilyas could have been that man, especially in the powerplay where he has a very good record. Unfortunately, however, he often proves expensive at the death.

One can argue that it was harsh to drop Waqas Maqsood at the back end of the tournament. While not being a standout option, the pacer was a useful top-tail option to have in the side, occasionally striking in the powerplays and also being a capable bowler at the death, though not being a specialist. Arshad Iqbal didn’t have a standout season but remains one of the more capable middle-overs options, offering something different to the other Kings pacers.

The lack of a proper spin-bowling option continues to hurt Karachi Kings, with players either not being picked at the draft or not being given opportunities. Imad Wasim himself bowled less than 3 overs/match during PSL 6, while Noor Ahmad was inducted into the team for only the final few games. The young Afghan spinner is a promising prospect, but his lack of experience shows under pressure.

Batting Structure

Karachi Kings followed a very methodical batting structure. Despite poor bowling performances in Karachi, their explosive batting meant that they put up a good show overall. However, that plan fell apart during the Abu Dhabi leg.

With Babar Azam and Sharjeel Khan opening, the Kings usually had middling powerplays, with 40/1 type scores. However, in Karachi, they had the bombastic Joe Clarke at #3, who took advantage of powerplay restrictions and imposed himself on the bowlers. Then, Colin Ingram came in at #4. Though he struggled in PSL 6 due to poor form, the South African is a good player of both pace and spin, particularly being destructive against leg-spin and left-arm spin with his left-hand advantage.

Mohammad Nabi provided batting intent during the middle overs from #5. Meanwhile, Dan Christian at #6 was the one with the task of finishing the innings at the death alongside Imad Wasim and the bowlers.

The Batting Plans Fall Apart

Signing Martin Guptill to bat at number three was the first sign of things going pear-shaped for coach Herschelle Gibbs. The New Zealand batsman has had a prolific career opening the batting in T20 cricket but is a completely different type of batsman to Joe Clarke. Relying on using powerplay restrictions to get going, he is still not a very destructive batsman by modern T20 standards, nor is he renowned for his spin play.

 

Innings

Runs

Avg

SR

50+

Opening

241

7302

32.9

133.5

51

#3

25

412

18.7

100.2

0

PSL (#3)

6

69

11.5

104.5

0

Guptill struggled throughout, and with no Clarke to speed up the scoring rate, the Kings’ powerplay run-rate fell from a respectable 8.4 in Karachi to 6.8 in Abu Dhabi. Guptill’s struggles and Sharjeel’s lack of output at the top meant extra pressure on Babar. While he dealt with it admirably from a volume standpoint, becoming the first batsman to hit 500 runs in a single PSL season, his strike rate was again a point of criticism. His powerplay SR of 110 was among the poorest for PSL 6.

The simultaneous losses of Ingram, Nabi, Christian, and the aforementioned Clarke all hurt the Kings. However, perhaps none hit them as hard as Nabi. The Afghan all-rounder put in some exceptional performances in the Karachi leg and provided balance to his side for match-ups. Najibullah Zadran, his replacement, was perhaps more suited to a lower order role and in the second half of the innings. Coming in at #4, he struggled to provide momentum after the powerplay. With Walton and Perera not making a major impact, the Kings were always playing catch up.

Lack of Trust?

Zeeshan Malik, Danish Aziz, Mohammad Haris, and Qasim Akram. With Danish coming in for the last three games, this was one of the rare moments where Karachi showed faith in some of the lesser-known players, especially batsmen. The Kings prefer to rely on established international Pakistani batsmen such as Babar Azam and Sharjeel Khan. In contrast, they prefer to have a slew of overseas batsmen in their middle order.

When plans work, it’s all well and good. However, teams must utilize their depth when things don’t go according to plan. Karachi Kings continued to go with the overseas players’ combination in the middle order, even when it didn’t work. With Imad Wasim also showing a lack of trust in his own batting, unwilling to come up the order, the pressure mounted on Babar Azam to take the game deep, leading to the Kings’ average batting performances in the UAE.

Conclusion

Cricket, especially T20 cricket, remains a game of fine margins, and teams must constantly evolve and adapt to changing circumstances. However, Karachi Kings failed to strengthen as a bowling unit throughout the tournament. After some fine batting performances early on, they were unable to deal with the departure of their overseas stars. These weaknesses eventually led to their elimination, with a poor powerplay bowling performance combining with middle-order struggles allowing Zalmi to knock them out in the eliminator.

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