PSL 2021: Peshawar Zalmi Preview

The champions of the second edition of the PSL had a disappointing season 5. After an overhaul of their squad, they will be hoping to become title-contenders once again.

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Introduction

Peshawar Zalmi have traditionally been considered one of the strong teams of the Pakistan Super League (PSL). In the inaugural edition of the tournament, they topped the table, losing to eventual champions Islamabad United in the playoffs. In the second edition, Darren Sammy’s men went on to win the tournament. Later, in season 3 and 4, Zalmi would put up strong performances once again, finishing as runners-up on both occasions. Islamabad United and Quetta Gladiators were the victors, and these three PSL franchises dominated in the first four seasons.

The fifth edition of the PSL would have been somewhat of a shock for the Javed Afridi-owned franchise. They won just 1 of their first 3 matches. That wasn’t the most alarming thing, though. Captain Darren Sammy was struggling – badly. Now aged 36, the West Indian was clearly past his best. After the 4th match of the season, Zalmi decided that it would be best for the team to hand over the armband to someone else. Sammy wouldn’t play again, with Wahab Riaz taking over the captaincy. They lost their last two group stage games, finishing 4th with just 4 wins. Then, Lahore Qalandars knocked them out in the playoffs.

After Darren Sammy’s removal as captain last season, the franchise took an unprecedented step – in the middle of the season, they announced that he would now serve as the Head Coach. The two-time T20 World Cup-winning captain is set to continue in his role. Meanwhile, Mohammad Akram continues to serve as the Director of Cricket Affairs for the franchise.

Squad Overview

Clearly not enamored by the results last season, Zalmi opted for an overhaul of the squad for PSL 6. Given the option to retain eight players, they held on to just five: the senior trio of Wahab Riaz, Kamran Akmal, and Shoaib Malik, alongside exciting youngster Haider Ali and England international Liam Livingstone (who is now unavailable due to England duties). In Wahab and Kamran, they have the top wicket-taker and run-scorer in PSL history. However, it may be of concern to Zalmi that their performances last season were below their usual high standards.

For the rest of the squad, the management consisting of Akram and Sammy made some interesting choices, alongside some puzzling ones. In their first pick of the draft, they went for David Miller – who just played a fabulous inning against Pakistan but will be partially unavailable due to CSA’s domestic T20 tournament. Afghanistan’s Mujeeb promises to be an excellent recruit unless national duties get in the way. Big-hitter Sherfane Rutherford adds another dimension to the Zalmi middle-order, while Amad Butt will provide balance.

Tom Kohler-Cadmore will replace the unavailable Livingstone, while new recruitments include tall left-armer Mohammad Irfan, young spinner Abrar Ahmed, left-arm pacer Mohammad Imran, and all-rounder Ravi Bopara. Despite retaining just five players, however, Zalmi still went for some familiar names in the draft. Umaid Asif, Saqib Mahmood, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Imran Randhawa, and Mohammad Amir Khan return to the franchise for Season 6.

Emerging Players

Abrar Ahmed

A 22-year-old ‘mystery’ spinner, Abrar played two matches for Karachi Kings in 2017. He was with the franchise for an extended period and was rated highly by coach Mickey Arthur, but injuries hampered him. However, he made a strong comeback this season in domestic cricket. He played a few matches in the National T20 Cup (2nd XI), but it was the longer format where he impressed. Playing for Sindh in the 2nd XI Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, the youngster picked up 57 wickets @ just 11.75, before making his First Class debut. His style of bowling makes him a very tantalizing prospect for the T20 format.

Mohammad Imran

Little was known about Mohammad Imran from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa until recently. The 20-year-old played a match apiece in the National U19 tournaments in 2019 and didn’t look back after that. During the recently concluded domestic season, he impressed for KP’s 2nd XIs, picking up 27 wickets at a good average and economy. This, in turn, led to a call-up for the 1st XI in the Pakistan Cup. He picked up just 7 wickets in the tournament but showed glimpses of his ability. A left-armer with deceptive pace, the youngster held his own, bowling some good lines, and also has quite an armory of change-ups, alongside a surprising bouncer. 

Mohammad Amir Khan

Zalmi picked the youngsters mentioned above in the Emerging category, but they also opted for an extra emerging player in the supplementary picks, bringing back 19-year-old Amir Khan. He played four matches for the franchise last season and didn’t look out of his depth, picking up the wickets of Ahmed Shehzad, Dane Vilas, and new teammate Ravi Bopara. However, he sustained an injury and was out of action for several months, before returning to the domestic cricket scene a couple of months ago.

Strengths

  • Batting depth: The recruitment of Amad Butt after Islamabad United released him could prove to be a good one. Last season, Zalmi often utilized the likes of Dawson, Sammy, and even Wahab at #6-7. With the likes of Bopara, Rutherford, Amad, and Imran Randhawa available, the squad looks better balanced than before.
  • Spinners could prove to be a strength and a weakness simultaneously. Mujeeb is ranked #3 in the ICC T20I Bowlers’ Rankings and is a bonafide T20 bowling superstar. He could prove to be a trump card. Similarly, many teams will not know a lot about Abrar Ahmed. However, there is little depth in the spin department.
  • Experience: Zalmi opted to retain Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Malik, and Wahab Riaz, who are all very experienced names on the T20 circuit. Ravi Bopara also brings a wealth of experience to the side, while the likes of Umaid Asif are reliable campaigners. Even Mujeeb – having played over 130 T20s – can be considered an experienced player despite his tender age.

Weaknesses

  • Pace-bowling: Hasan Ali wanted to leave the franchise this season and joined Islamabad United. The pacer is in terrific form, and Zalmi will undoubtedly miss him in PSL 6. Wahab Riaz has shown signs of slowing down despite his fantastic PSL record, while Mohammad Irfan hasn’t played a lot of cricket recently. Zalmi may need to rely on Saqib Mahmood and Umaid Asif a fair bit and hope their emerging pacers do well.
  • Top-order: After finishing seasons 2, 3, and 4 among the top two run-scorers, Kamran Akmal failed to replicate that in season 5. Though he hit a hundred, he failed a lot more than he succeeded, finishing outside the top ten run-scorers. Kohler-Cadmore has only ever played one PSL match – back in 2018. Meanwhile, Haider Ali has had a poor run in recent T20Is. With Miller unavailable for the initial stages, Zalmi might struggle at the top.

Key Players

  • Haider Ali’s six-hitting prowess came to the fore last season, and Zalmi will be hoping he can rediscover his form to give them a top-order boost, especially if Kamran Akmal fails to go big once again.
  • Mujeeb-ur-Rahman  could be crucial. While spinners have struggled in Pakistan in PSL compared to UAE, Mujeeb’s vast array of skills makes him a key player for Zalmi.
  • In the absence of Hassan Ali, captain Wahab Riaz will be expected to play an important role with the ball. Last season was the first time that he finished outside the top three wicket-takers in a PSL season. If he can get back to his best, Zalmi’s chances of doing well will exponentially increase.

Prediction

The PSL last season was quite high-scoring. The average batting strike-rate was 135+, while batsmen hit boundaries every 5.5 balls. Considering that, Zalmi may regret the lack of batting options in the top order since it’s almost always top-order batsmen who help a team to big scores. Additionally, the loss of Hassan Ali and a weakened pace attack – despite a variety of options – could prove to be a hindrance. If Zalmi don’t perform strongly in these two aspects, which is quite possible, they may fail to make the playoffs this season.

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