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HBL PSL 7 – A Roaring Success

With the successful staging of its seventh edition, the PSL (Pakistan Super League) brand is all set to climb few more steps on the ladder of T20 franchised cricket.

The final of the PSL7 between Lahore Qalandars and Multan Sultans, easily the two best sides amongst the six participating, played in front of full house at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore is set to go down as an event that re-energized and re-established Pakistan on its journey in hosting mega cricket events.

A month-long tournament, played in Karachi and Lahore, ticked a number of key boxes for its stakeholders, including Habib Bank Ltd. (HBL), its leading sponsors, in terms of players security, crowd participation and overseas players experience in Pakistan. Ramiz Raja, the present Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), has a near-perfect credentials in taking his country forward, for his understanding of modern day international cricket, is second to none. His vision to take the next edition of PSL in 2023 beyond Karachi and Lahore to other major cities, i.e. Islamabad, Peshawar, Multan and Quetta, will take the PSL brand to another level, in terms of commercial success and worldwide following.

Having often relegated to also- ran bracket in the previous editions of PSL, since 2016, Lahore Qalandars’ owner Fawad Rana had every reason to be emotional with his team’s 42-run victory to become the new PSL champions. In fact 42 is a significant number since it is a dialling code of city of Lahore and Player of the Match winner – Mohammad Hafeez is in his 42nd year, followed his effortless 69 off 46 balls with a key wicket of Mohammad Rizwan, the captain of Multan Sultans and Player of the Tournament, Best Batter and Best Wicket-keeper of the Tournament.

Rizwan is clearly the biggest star of Pakistan cricket, at presen,t through his focused approach to the profession and he is viewed as a role model in the game for his physical fitness and a sharp mind to go with it. He is the first outstanding wicket-keeper batter to emerge from Peshawar or the KPK (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) province and at the age of 29 can safely be bracketed alongside, Imtiaz Ahmed, Salim Yousuf, Moin Khan, Rashid Latif and Sarfraz Ahmed, amongst the best in Pakistan’s 74-year history. In the 2022 summer, Rizwan will also become the first Pakistan wicket-keeper to play English county cricket, having agreed terms with Sussex.

In the PSL7 Rizwan proved an outstanding leader of the men under him and Multan Sultans, having topped the points table with nine victories in 10 league matches, managed to beat its closest rival Lahore Qalandars in the Qualifier, only not to be at their best at the final hurdle. Rizwan also displayed great sportsmanship by walking out to congratulate his opposite number and close friend, Shaheen Afridi, at the finish.

The images and clips of tall paceman lifting the short wicket-keeper, in the middle of a traditional Pakistani Baghal Gheer or Japhee (embracing), was an instant hit after going viral on social media. That particular image is set to become iconic with PSL7 and Lahore Qalandars, led for the first time by Shaheen Afridi. He too like Rizwan has progressed well in the last few years and his experience of captaincy will certainly give him a boost and a month short of his 22nd birthday, he has a great future ahead of him.

Fawad Rana, the Lahore Qalandars owner with former Pakistan paceman Aqib Javed in its management team, was proud of his squad that enabled him to wipe out the memories of the previous failed campaigns. Aqib perhaps under-rated as the Head Coach of Qalandars, has had a strong impact on Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf previously and now Zaman Khan, voted as the Best Emerging Player of the Tournament, too looks a good prospect. With his unusual Malinga-like slingy bowling action, Zaman born in Mirpur, Azad Kashmir, is set to attract the attention of selectors. Such is the ways of T20 franchised cricket that not one of the 17-man squad that represented Qalandars was born in Lahore. Rashid Khan, who missed the final stages whilst on national duties with Afghanistan in Bangladesh and T20 specialist David Wiese, having represented both South Africa and Namibia in internationals, both made valuable contribution to their team’s success alongside Fakhar Zaman, who with 588 runs and a strike rate of 152.72 had an amazing run in the tournament for Qalandars.

Peshawar Zalmi, led by former Pakistan paceman Wahab Riaz, finished third in the points table after its 10 league matches. Having employed no less than 25 players including seven overseas signings, they did not find the consistency in batting or bowling to challenge the best sides. At times one felt they relied too much on Shoaib Malik, who having turned 40 last month will match the athleticism of men half his age, scored 401 runs @ 44.55 with a strike rate of 137.32. Perhaps having played his last game for Pakistan, he could quite easily carry on for another five years in T20 franchised cricket. Deep down though he must be eyeing T20 World Cup to be held in Australia later in the year as his swansong. Another veteran who still has not lost his touch is Kamran Akmal, who as an opening batsman smashed 58 off 39 balls in the 1st Eliminator against Peshawar Zalmi. The trio of coaches Darren Sammy (Head), Younis Khan (Batting) and Mohammad Akram (Bowling), would be a tee bit disappointed for after six victories in their 10 league games, they were pipped in the points table on net run-rate by Lahore Qalandars.

Led by all-rounder Shadab Khan, Islamabad United finished fourth in the league table with four wins and then also beat Peshawar Zalmi in the 1st Eliminator by wickets. With the skipper chipping in with bat, ball and in the field, he could also rely on the all-round contribution of Fahim Ashraf and Hasan Ali and dynamic batting of Alex Hales, Colin Munro, Paul Stirling and Azam Khan, who in a bid to come out of the shadows of his illustrious father Moin Khan, had opted to leave Quetta Gladiators and seek a new identity, in a way. Shadab is an outstanding white ball cricketer and with 19 wickets @10.89 to his credit was named Bowler of the Tournament.

Wicket-keeper Sarfraz Ahmed, who captained Quetta Gladiators with full backing of its coach Moin Khan and West Indies great Vivian Richards, whose motivational presence can’t be match by any living player in the world. Four win in their 10 league matches left them with fifth position and they could have done with their opening batter Jason Roy, playing in more than six games for he scored 303 runs @ 50.50 with a strike rate of 170.22 and posed threat for opposition. It seems both Sohail Tanvir and Umar Akmal are well past their peak and 41-year old Shahid Afridi, had to announce his retirement after three games, having injured his back.

Despite having a squad made up of brilliant t20 individual talent, Karachi Kings surprisingly was not allowed to get going in the PSL7 and suffered nine defeats in their 10 league fixtures. Their batting, after the opening pair of skipper Babar Azam and Sharjeel Khan, did not come up to expectations and provided headache for its owner Salman Iqbal and Head Coach, Wasim Akram. It will be interesting to see how the former Pakistan captain would get Karachi Kings back on track for no one could put question mark against his vast knowledge and experience of the modern day cricket.

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