PSL 2021: Why Peshawar Zalmi Stumbled at the Last Hurdle (Again)

The Yellow Storm had a good season, but lost their third PSL final to once again finish are runners-up.

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PSL 3, 4, and now 6. That’s three finals that Peshawar Zalmi have reached in the last four seasons, and each time, they’ve finished without the trophy. For Daren Sammy, the former Zalmi captain and current coach, this will be quite a disturbing trend. We’re talking about a man who has led his side to two T20 World Cup victories. So what could be the reason for their failure to capture the PSL trophy, and what did they get right this season?

Where are the Spinners?

Pacers played a crucial role in PSL 6. First in Karachi, most teams opted to go with pace-heavy attacks due to the batting-friendly nature of pitches. Then in UAE, the conditions assisted seam movement, while late-night dew meant spinners could have trouble gripping the ball. However, Zalmi was the only side to bowl less than 20% overs of spin.

Team

Wkts

Avg

SR

Eco

% Overs

Lahore Qalandars

15

19.3

18.0

6.4

22.9%

Multan Sultans

20

22.5

17.7

7.6

26.5%

Karachi Kings

12

40.6

31.5

7.7

30.5%

Quetta Gladiators

22

29.3

20.7

8.5

43.1%

Islamabad United

16

41.9

27.8

9.0

31.9%

Peshawar Zalmi

9

48.4

31.3

9.3

18.7%

Zalmi’s spin options were the worst in every aspect, from average to economy. They would’ve had high hopes from Afghan pro Mujeeb Ur Rahman. However, the youngster struggled in Karachi and was unavailable for the UAE leg. The former champions then signed Fabian Allen – who was only partially available and more of an all-rounder than a proper wicket-taking spinner. He duly struggled, going at over 10 RPO.

Abrar Ahmed was perhaps the only spinner to truly make an impression for Zalmi. He spun a web around the Karachi Kings lower order to pick up 3/14. However, the Wahab Riaz-led side quickly lost faith in him after he went for 0/48 – in the tournament’s highest-scoring match – and he wouldn’t play again.

Would a spinner have made a difference in the loss to Multan in the final? Probably. The Sultans’ batsmen didn’t have the best time against spin in PSL 6; only the Qalandars’ batsmen had a lower average against spin than the Sultans (25.9). Rilee Rossouw played a game-changing knock in the final after struggling against spin all season, while Man of the Match Sohaib Maqsood is also a stronger batsman against pace.

Wahab Riaz (and Death Bowling)

In past PSL seasons, the Zalmi captain usually bowled in the middle overs and at the death. However, he began this season with a different approach, bowling more often in the powerplay. The veteran has not been renowned for his new ball skills over the years but showed he could play the part this year. Most surprisingly, he was swinging the new ball into the right-hander.

PSL 1-5

 

PSL 6

10

PP Wkts

4

34.3

PP Avg

22.5

7.3

PP Econ

6.4

23%

Overs in PP

30%

7.1

Death Econ

12.6

35%

Overs at Death

26%

However… his death bowling fell apart simultaneously. With Wahab struggling at the death, Zalmi’s bowling became very susceptible at the back end of the innings. From being the second-best side at the death in PSL 5, Zalmi became the second-worst, conceding more than 12 RPO between overs 17-20. Only Quetta Gladiators, enduring one of the worst PSL campaigns by any side ever, fared worse.

Team

Death Economy

Islamabad United

8.8

Multan Sultans

9.4

Lahore Qalandars

10.0

Karachi Kings

11.6

Peshawar Zalmi

12.1

Quetta Gladiators

12.7

Saqib Mahmood was perhaps the only bowler to make an impression at the death. Emerging player Mohammad Imran was impressive as well but often overdid the slower balls, thus ending with a death economy of 10.6. The only other bowler to bowl a substantial number of overs at the death was Umaid Asif – and he went for 14 RPO. Zalmi promptly conceded 56 in the last 4 overs in the final, allowing the Sultans to surpass 200. Daren Sammy noted these struggles during the tournament and will no doubt look to rectify them next season.

Openers

Let’s talk about the Zalmi top order. Hazratullah Zazai was a breath of fresh air for the opening combination; however, the rest of the openers didn’t fare well in PSL 6. The Zalmi openers besides Zazai fared as poorly as the Gladiators and Qalandars. With them unable to retain Zazai next season, this is a worrying sign, with all of their local options having a poor season opening the batting.

Team

Inns

Runs

Avg

SR

BPB

50+

Islamabad United

24

779

39.0

159.3

3.9

5

Karachi Kings

22

892

46.9

138.1

5.3

9

Peshawar Zalmi

26

625

24.0

137.7

4.6

5

Multan Sultans

24

769

33.4

131.7

5.4

6

PZ (Without Zazai)

21

413

19.7

121.5

5.7

2

Lahore Qalandars

20

436

22.9

119.8

5.9

2

Quetta Gladiators

20

357

17.9

114.8

5.8

1

Kamran Akmal, undeniably a Zalmi legend for his services to the franchise, had his worst season since PSL 1, with an average of under 25 and a strike rate under 130. He struggled to counter the Sultans bowlers in the final, trying to be aggressive against the pacers in the powerplay but failing to build any momentum. At the same time, he deprived Zazai of the strike, and the left-hander fell in the 6th over, having faced only five balls.

Imam-ul-Haq opened alongside Kamran on a few occasions but couldn’t muster many innings of note. Then, the Zalmi management made the inexplicable decision to promote Haider Ali to open the batting, just when he had become accustomed to his role in the middle order. He struggled as well before being dropped for the aforementioned Zazai.

Bright Points

In a season where Zalmi reached the final, there are bound to be plenty of positives. Among them was Shoaib Malik, who had a stellar season, finishing as the top run-scorer for the Yellow Storm. Most impressive was his strike rate of almost 150. He particularly thrived toward the latter stages of the tournament, hitting 178 runs in the last four matches at an SR of 180.

Left-armers Mohammad Irfan and Imran made an impact as well. Irfan was particularly good in the UAE leg of the tournament, taking 8 wickets at under 6 RPO. Youngster Imran showed he wasn’t overawed by the big stage, influencing proceedings across various stages of the innings. The 20-year-old would be well served to utilize his slower ball less often and keep it as a surprise weapon; he also has a surprisingly sharp bouncer that can hurry the batsmen. Lots there to work with.

Among the overseas players, Hazratullah Zazai made an instant impression, winning three Man of the Match awards in his five matches. However, replacement players can not be among the retentions. That’s where Zalmi may be more interested in the performances of David Miller, who played an excellent hand in the few games he was available for, showing he can counter the spinners effectively as well. Sherfane Rutherford and Saqib Mahmood also played their parts, with the West Indian playing an important role in the middle order while the Englishman bowled well in the middle and at the death.

What can one say about Haider Ali? The youngster was impressive in the Karachi leg, playing a couple of crucial knocks in the middle order. However, he was promoted to open the innings and struggled and was promptly dropped – perhaps not the best way of handling a young batsman who’s still finding his feet at the top level. Still, the Zalmi batsmen were highly effective overall despite the opener problems, largely due to their middle overs performance (best in PSL 6) and death overs hitting.

Best Batting Run Rates in PSL 6

Team

Avg

RPO

Peshawar Zalmi

30.90

9.14

Multan Sultans

29.73

8.95

Islamabad United

27.69

8.95

Karachi Kings

30.92

8.89

Lahore Qalandars

22.45

8.01

Quetta Gladiators

19.36

7.83

Conclusion

It’s unlikely that simply getting to the final is enough for a team like Zalmi. The former champions would have been desperate to equalize Islamabad United’s tally of titles. Yet, PSL 6 turned out to be a good season for the Yellow Storm with plenty of positives going forward. With a few changes and tweaks in the squad, there’s no reason they can’t challenge for the title again next season – and maybe go all the way.

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