One of the fundamental rules for successful teams in franchise cricket has been building a solid core of players which govern their overall strategy. It is no different in the PSL where, for instance, Quetta Gladiators prioritize selecting from a certain pool of players who have played together long enough to know each other’s roles. Such an environment breeds freedom of thought and selflessness for which the tone is set right at the beginning.
After winning PSL 1, Islamabad United retained almost its entire squad for the next season and, till date, held on to the same mindset by picking players like Rumman Raees who may not have enjoyed a contract renewal with other franchises after missing out the best part of two years due to injury. But Islamabad realize the kind of culture they are able to create by having the same team every year and have gone on to become arguably the most successful PSL side in the tournament’s short history. On the other hand, Lahore Qalandars are the only franchise, barring latecomers Multan, to not have had any player with more than 40 games under his belt and are still struggling to form an identity.
Islamabad United have topped the batting charts for three consecutive years now, boasting a lot of firepower throughout their batting line up. They coupled supreme batting performances with the ball in a title-winning season in 2018. Since then, their bowling stocks have left much to be desired for and have failed to create an impact.
Interestingly, the sides with the lowest batting run rates in 2018 and 2019 missed out on qualifying for the playoffs whereas bowling returns created a lesser impact on overall results – Peshawar Zalmi and Karachi Kings had poor seasons with the ball in 2018 but found themselves clashing for a final spot in Lahore. Zalmi backed it up with the worst bowling economy rate in 2019, but managed to make it to their 3rd consecutive final.
With the PSL coming home, run rates have soared up and while batting won games in the UAE, there is no certainty about defending totals around 170-180 especially in grounds like Rawalpindi. Numbers show Multan have been the best bowling side in the last two seasons which was best characterized by their stranglehold of opposition batsmen through spinners. Lahore and Multan are also the most improved batting sides – since 2018, their scoring rates have increased by 24 and 22 percent respectively. Both teams also ended up as two of the best three bowling sides in terms of economy and led their way to No. 1 and 3 in the table, further highlighting the increased importance of bowling on these pitches.
On surface, Karachi gives the impression of being Pakistan’s best batting track or at least right at the top with Rawalpindi. Average score at the venue was the lowest this year. However, among all venues and a possible reason might have been the latter half of its games being played behind closed doors and a couple of dead rubber contests contributing to potentially lack of intensity from players. The last four games were all 150-run affairs, which were a contrast to the venue’s reputation. Before the second leg of Karachi, the average score in the PSL in Karachi over 3 seasons was 178.
The exclusion of Umer Khan in the beginning of the tournament raised several eyebrows, but numbers show spinners were not a wicket-taking option in Karachi while seamers had a far better economy rate than at any other ground. Karachi, under Dean Jones, exploited their home advantage perfectly by sending down 76% of their deliveries through pace at home and securing a second spot.
Statistics above showed Islamabad United’s problem with their bowling and that was not helped by their home ground matching parallel to Bengaluru. Rawalpindi was a bowler’s nightmare and while Islamabad were up to the task in terms of reaching similar scores, their pace bowlers went at 10.9 compared to the average (9.61). Spin was not a trusted option either – the lowest % of spin overs were bowled at the venue in return for the highest economy rate.
Each ground has its own story. While the two venues above favoured fast bowling or batting, Lahore was a happy hunting ground for spinners. For all the talk around Lahore’s not so clever planning, they exploited home advantage further by bowling 40% of its overs through spin. Multan’s sample size is not enough to make conclusions yet, but traditionally it has benefitted spinners and there is a lot of scope for these two teams to pack their sides with spin options, much like CSK does in its den.
25 players, representing their respective franchises in this PSL, were aged 34 or above. Multan and Lahore had a clear strategy to bank on experience. In particular, Multan’s premier bowlers – Afridi, Tahir, Tanvir brought the experience of more than 900 T20 games on the table. Interestingly, teams had a tendency to opt for experienced fast bowlers – each franchise had at least one, except Lahore, while Multan had 2.
A thorough look at numbers has a lesson for each side, and in general, for T20 enthusiasts about how one of the biggest leagues in the world is shaping towards change by moving out of the UAE. It is bound to have an impact on team strategies and selection policies too which should set up an interesting draft before the next season.