Islamabad are pretty much the only team that have had a mix of fortunes so far in the PSL, they have not been as consistently successful as Quetta or Peshawar neither have they been as regularly awful as Karachi and Lahore, they fall smack dab in the middle. Their win percentage (45%) with 9 wins out of 20 matches, also reflects that it’s the third best (or worst) win percentage out of all the teams. It wouldn’t be harsh to say Islamabad have been somewhat sporadic, they had a fairytale tournament in 2016 where they scraped by in the group stages but then had a sudden burst of brilliance in the playoffs, securing three consecutive wins to become the inaugural champions. In 2017 they had somewhat of a nightmare, plagued by off-field controversies which resulted in the ban of some key players definitely hit them hard. They never recovered from it and finished fourth in the group stages and were eliminated in the first playoff game. With a much fresher and younger looking squad this year, Islamabad will be hungry to regain the PSL title.
Before the campaign had even begun Islamabad suffered a key blow when Andre Russell (the highest wicket taker of PSL 2016) was banned for a year for a doping violation and after the first game, it just got worse for Islamabad. Two of their crucial local players Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif were accused (and later charged) with spot-fixing. Having lost three of their most valuable players it was no surprise that the rest of the tournament was a struggle for Islamabad. They barely made it to the playoffs, finishing fourth overall and could’ve easily missed out had they not produced a miraculous 1 run win against Quetta, where Sami defended 5 runs off the last over. The main culprit for their poor season was their batting which fell apart in almost every game, somewhat understandable given the loss of Sharjeel and Latif. Their highest run scorer was Dwayne Smith who definitely managed to score 274 runs at a healthy average of 34 but never really looked at his best which his strike rate of 113 clearly shows but there weren’t any other standout performers with the bat and their overall stats clearly echo that. They had the worst batting average, the worst run rate and the highest dot-ball percentage (1). When it comes to bowling, however, which was clearly their stronger suit and what really kept them in the tournament, they had plenty of standout performers. The foremost being Rumman Raees who had a stupendous PSL who finished with 12 wickets at an average of just 13.5 and an economy of 6.19 he was joint third in the overall wicket takers list along with Mohammed Sami who used his pace to good effect picking up 12 scalps at an average of 18 and an economy of 6.96. Moreover, even though it seems like such a long time ago but this was the tournament where Shadab Khan (nicknamed #chotu at the time) emerged and impressed everyone by picking up 9 wickets in 8 games an economy of just 6.61. Overall their bowlers ranked second in average and strike rate but third in economy rate and boundary percentage. Their spinners and seamers had completely contrasting numbers, unsurprisingly their seamers had the best average and economy rate but their spinners, as a whole were a massive let down, they had the worst average and economy rate. To sum up, Islamabad’s seamers were pretty much the only thing that kept their tournament hopes alive, every other aspect of their team let them down but it is difficult to put too much blame on the team for their 2017 run because a lot of what went wrong was down to things outside of their control.
Islamabad have always maintained a nice blend of youth and experience in their side and it is no different this year, their first pick in the draft was the 33 year old JP Duminy, who fits perfectly in their squad, he provides them with someone who can hold the batting together and prevent those collapses which were all too familiar last year. They also picked up the kiwi wicket keeper Luke Ronchi who can help fill the void of the aggressive opener that has been left by Sharjeel Khan. In their third pick they injected some youth into their squad, Faheem Ashraf who adds to their numerous all-round options along with Andre Russell, Shadab Khan, Hussain Talat and Amad Butt. Their batting still has the calm experienced head of Misbah, along with Ifthikhar Ahmed for the latter stages of the innings, Asif Ali and the much talked about Sahibzada Farhan. They also have plenty of options with gloves, the aforementioned Luke Ronchi but also Sam Billings (partially available), the 16 year old Rohail Nazir who also keeps wicket for the under 19 Pakistan team and Chadwick Walton. Their bowling especially their seam bowling has gotten even stronger with the return of Andre Russell and the inclusion of David Willey. They have also bolstered their spin attack by including Zafar Gohar. Islamabad United will be banking on their depth to reach the final and become the first PSL team to win the title twice.
Islamabad united have an absolute abundance of all-rounders of pretty much all skills, they have two genuine fast bowling all-rounders in Andre Russell and Faheem Ashraf and they’re both likely to play in the eleven which should give them plenty of options with the ball. They also have Hussan Talat who is primarily a batsman bat can give them a few overs of seam, then they have the opposite in Amad Butt who is a bowling all-rounder. They have Shadab Khan who is not only one of the best T20 wrist spinners in the world but also a mature and skilled batsman. They’ll also be able to call the services of JP Duminy, Samit Patel (when JP isn’t available) and Ifthikhar Ahmed all of them who can chip in with more than a few overs of spin. They also have all-rounder in the wicket keeping department and even in that case their depth is astounding they have 5 different options to choose from (3 international and 2 local) which assures them plenty of flexibility while choosing an 11 and ensures that they won’t have to rely too much on one player. Their all-rounder options will guarantee that when Islamabad pick an 11 they will have a deep batting lineup and a plethora of options with the bowl, which are the keys to any successful T20 sides.
This might sound like nitpicking but apart from Shadab Islamabad’s spin attack doesn’t seem entirely convincing. Even though they have spin all-rounders such as Duminy, Ifthikhar and Patel but they only have two other specialist spinners the ageing Samuel Badree and the inexperienced Zafar Gohar. Badree numbers have declined somewhat in T20, his average in 2016 was 23 with an economy of 6.63, since the start of 2017 his average has been 26 and economy is 7.36, the other problem he had last year with Shadab Khan’s rise, was that he couldn’t find a spot in the Islamabad side he only played 1 game and just bowled the one over. Their other spin option has not played a T20 game since September 2016 so Zafar will be a bit of an unknown. It might be a tiny chink in their armor but if they come upon a spin friendly pitch their attack might struggle
Players to look out for:
This is going to be Andre Russell’s first T20 match in over a year, he did return to competitive cricket in February by playing the regional super 50 tournament but this will be his return to the format he very much owned for many years. His hard hitting ability and fiery pace bowling makes him an extremely valuable commodity in T20 cricket and Islamabad will be hopeful that a year away from the game has not diminished that ability because he will no doubt play a crucial role in their bid to regain the title.
To say Shadab Khan’s rise has been meteoric would be an understatement he came in as an emerging player in 2017 and since then he has played a key role in Pakistan’s champions trophy triumph, played in the BBL and the CPL. With his excellent pace, superb control and deceptive googly Shadab has become a much sought after T20 player, he will definitely be Islamabad’s strike bowler and will be expected to step up when the going gets tough and so far in his career he has shown he can do exactly that.
My starting 11:
- Luke Ronchi (wk)
- Sahibzada Farhan
- Hussain Talat
- Samit Patel
- Misbah ul Haq ©
- Andre Russell
- Faheem Ashraf
- Shadab Khan
- Mohammed Sami
- Rumman Raees
- Samuel Badree
Luke Ronchi is most likely to be the first choice opener and wicketkeeper, in the absence of Duminy, Islamabad will most probably look to Hussain Talat to emulate the anchor role. Samit Patel should fit in well at 4 and the rest of the team basically picks itself. They only thing they might contemplate is playing more than two specialist seamers but given that they have both Russell and Ashraf in the side they should look to play Badree to increase their spin options.
In a tournament that has already been plagued by injuries and players pulling out it seem like the depth that Islamabad have will give them a massive advantage over other teams as they look to take the PSL title back.