ISLAMABAD: The International Cricket Council (ICC) sees Andre Russell, Babar Azam, Liam Livingstone, Sandeep Lamichhane, AB de Villiers and Sunil Narine as top players to watch for in the fourth edition of Pakistan Super League (PSL) beginning in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from Thursday.
The tournament which begins with defending champions Islamabad United taking on Lahore Qalanders in Dubai on Thursday and UAE leg ends when Islamabad clash with Quetta Gladiators on 5 March, will feature some of top Twenty20 cricketers from across the globe.
Apart from those teams, Peshawar Zalmi, Karachi Kings and Multan Sultans will also join the contest for a top-four finish before the tournament shifts to Lahore and Karachi for the tail-end of the league stage and the playoffs.
As in the past three seasons, the PSL is full of T20 mavericks who have proven their mettle in the shortest format of the game and now there will be six players to watch out for.
Andre Russell (Multan Sultans): Russell’s all-round abilities make him a crucial element in any side.
The Windies’ Dre Russ comes into the PSL on the back of impressive performances in the Bangladesh Premier League, having picked up 11 wickets in his last 10 T20 outings and scored 229 runs.
A batting strike-rate of 166.57 makes him a dangerous batsman lower down the order and the ability to notch up speeds in excess of 90mph with the ball makes him tough to contend with early in an innings.
Known for his athleticism, Russell adds a key element to every side he plays for and gives the XI much-needed balance.
Multan, who are into their second season, should benefit from Russell’s experience.
Babar Azam (Karachi Kings): Babar Azam has been in good form in T20 cricket.
Pakistan’s batting sensation and the No. 1 batsman on the MRF Tyres ICC T20I Rankings was in fine form during Pakistan’s recent tour to South Africa.
Many batsmen struggled against pace and bounce on that tour, but Azam again proved why he is rated so highly.
He geared up for the tournament with scores of 23, 90 and 38 in the three T20Is.
Karachi have managed a top-four finish in each of the past three seasons, but have never won the title.
With his healthy T20I average of 41.01, he will be one of the players they look to to make an impact for them.
Liam Livingstone (Karachi Kings): Livingstone starred for Lancashire in the T20 Blast.
The right-handed England batsman plays for Lancashire in county cricket and boasts of a T20 strike-rate of 145.47 from 51 matches in which he has scored 1110 runs.
Last season, Livingstone, 25, scored 318 runs at a strike-rate of 188.16 for his county in the T20 Blast and on his most recent outing for England Lions against Pakistan A in the UAE, he returned three wickets and a 19-ball 35. This good recent form prompted Karachi to pick him as a supplementary player, but he will be available for his team for the whole tournament.
Sandeep Lamichhane (Lahore Qalanders): The young leg-spinner from Nepal has taken giant strides since their appearance in the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018. He has picked up nine wickets in his last seven T20 outings and is playing for Melbourne Stars in his debut Big Bash League season.
It will also be the 18-year-old’s debut season in the PSL when he turns out for Lahore Qalanders.
He has picked up 13 wickets for Melbourne at an economy rate of 6.83 and is likely to turn out alongside Yasir Shah if picked in the Lahore XI.
AB de Villiers (Lahore Qalanadars): AB de Villiers has played in T20 leagues in South Africa and Bangladesh since his retirement.
The PSL will provide another rare chance to see the South African legend in action since his retirement from international cricket.
De Villiers is making his first appearance in the tournament and gave the event a big boost when he said he’d play in Pakistan.
The Qalandars have so far always finished last, and they’ll hope the international duo of de Villiers and Lamichhane, playing under captain Mohammad Hafeez, will turn their fortunes around.
Sunil Narine (Quetta Gladiators): Narine’s mystery spin may come in handy on spin-friendly pitches in the UAE.
The mystery spinner and hard-hitting opening batsman has been an asset for many T20 teams that he has turned out for and Quetta will be expecting nothing different.
Although he is expected to miss the start of the tournament due to a finger injury he sustained just ahead of the league, he will walk into the XI when he gets fit.
His returns of 10 wickets in the last 10 T20s and quick 20s and 30s at the top of the order make him an impact player.