Peshawar Zalmi have, alongside Quetta Gladiators, been the most consistent sides in the PSL. The only team besides Islamabad United to lift a trophy, popularity has come easy to the men representing northern Pakistan clad in yellow. They set the tone in the first year when they topped the standings en route to playoffs, but it was in the second year the franchise really began to soar. With the final moving to Lahore and the opposition’s foreign players refusing to come, Darren Sammy dragged his entire squad to Pakistan and romped to the title in front of a euphoric home crowd.
The legend of Sammy was born, the St Lucian the most popular man in Peshawar, arguably the best-liked player in the PSL’s history, local or otherwise. With his side falling short at the final hurdle against Islamabad in Karachi last year, Peshawar will be keen to keep that high level this year, with anything less than that coveted trophy considered a disappointment.
As Peshawar have done so well across each season in the PSL, the presence of a core group of players that helps maintain the team’s identity is visible. In leagues like the PSL where selection happens through the draft system, retaining players is never that straightforward, but Peshawar have a bunch who’ve been ever-present since the first year. Sammy, of course, leads that list, while Dawid Malan, Chris Jordan, Hasan Ali, Kamran Akmal and Wahab Riaz have all only ever worn the yellow of Peshawar.
In addition, Kieron Pollard’s signing is on paper the most high-profile, but the inclusion of Umar Amin and Wayne Madsen could prove equally judicious. In Ibtisam Sheikh, the baby-faced legspinner who made a bit of a splash last year, Peshawar could have one of their local lads rising through the system, while 44-year old Misbah-ul-Haq signing on was one of the more surprising additions. His game time will likely be limited, but his inputs of the field priceless.
Peshawar’s key advantage seems to be the solid team that has been built incrementally over the years. Never has the draft been fundamentally crucial to them because a major overhaul isn’t required, with two or three tweaks more than enough to remedy any problems the squad may face. The side, right through from the batsman to allrounders and bowlers is well balanced with greater depth than most sides; they are not reliant on one or two big players to paper over the cracks, as there seem to be no cracks to paper over. In Kamran Akmal, they have the player with most runs – by over 200 – in the tournament’s history. At the other end, Wahab Riaz has the most wickets – by 11 – ever since the PSL began. With top and tail secured, the likes of Dawson, Sammy and Pollard offer all-round stability. Balance, and it appears success, run through this franchise’s blood.
The only finger one could point at that side is the possible absence of indisputable quality at the top, Kamran excluded. Mohammad Hafeez, Dwayne Bravo and Tamim Iqbal are all absent this year, and players of that quality are nigh-on impossible to replace. This should provide Andre Fletcher a more prominent role at the top, with Dawid Malan also expected to take on the mantle of a senior player. It also saddles Wayne Madsen and Nabi Gul with greater burden should they be required to fill in for an underperforming batsman at some point in the season. With the missing trio at the top, the margins for Peshawar become that bit tighter.
Key foreign player
Kieron Pollard is well known to the fans of Karachi for those famous 12 runs off the final two balls in 2017 that took them through to the playoffs, but needless to say, he is no one-match wonder. From the Toronto Nationals to the Adelaide Strikers, he has become one of the giants of the T20 circuit right around the world, having played almost 450 games. The PSL is well-acquainted with his brutal hitting; he’s struck at over 161 across the seasons. And he has also brought that languid yet impossibly athletic boundary fielding which produces stunning catches. In Peshawar, under the leadership of a fellow West Indian, Pollard should feel right at home.
Under the radar local player
Nabi Gu, 21, may only have played a handful of games, but there’s plenty to indicate the following five weeks could be seminal in his career’s launch. Just six T20 innings provide little by way of a gauge as to the kind of player he is, but the 99 runs he’s scored have come off 74 balls, and a first-class average of 44.8 suggests batting quality. In a Peshawar side where the top order is a little thin, Nabi could find opportunities opening up for him.
Squad: Darren Sammy (capt) Kamran Akmal (wk), Andre Fletcher, Nabi Gul, Dawid Malan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Sohaib Maqsoon, Wayne Madsen, Liam Dawson, Kieron Pollard, Khalid Usman, Umar Amin, Wahab Riaz, Chris Jordan, Hasan Ali, Umaid Asif, Ibtisam Sheikh, Sameen Gul, Samiullah Afridi, Jamal Anwar
Management and coaching staff: Mohammad Akram (head coach), Younis Khan (batting coach and mentor), Saqlain Mushtaq (spin bowling consultant), Grant Luden (fielding coach and fitness trainer), Ibrahim Qureshi (assistant trainer) Brad Robinson (physio), Usman Hashim (analyst)