Ben Dunk's rip-roaring power-hitting was a prominent aspect of Lahore Qalandars' journey in Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2020 before the tournament playoffs were postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Instead of his abilities being limited to a one-hit wonder, Dunk's belligerent striking became the highlight of Qalandars' campaign and powered the perennially unlucky franchise to the top four for the first time in PSL history.
Dunk's profound heroics were marked by a remarkable penchant for clearing the boundaries with ease. The brute force and skill exhibited by Dunk saw him smack 23 sixes in the unfinished competition, seven maximums ahead of the second-placed batter on the list. The Tasmanian's ruthless strokeplay felt effortless as he routinely launched his breathtaking onslaughts whilst adopting a calm demeanour. This was embodied by a bubblegum-popping exercise as Dunk's prowess injected a sense of self-belief in the Qalandars that had been missing from their previous campaigns.
Now, fears persist over the possibility of lost momentum for the Qalandars as the PSL 2020 resumes on November 14. With Lahore experiencing a surge in the latter half of their journey, the question remains whether they can recoup the same zealous spirit.
However, Dunk thinks otherwise as the veteran pro claims the coronavirus break has catalysed his recovery from a knee injury. While many assumed the southpaw was free from any problem during the PSL 2020, Dunk has revealed his battles with knee niggles amidst the carnage.
"What most people don't know is that during that period, there were a lot of guys who were carrying injuries," Dunk told Cricingif in an exclusive interview from the team hotel in Karachi.
"Shaheen had a sore thumb, Dilbar had a side niggle, Haris had a sore foot and my knee was really sore. Although our momentum has stopped a little bit, it has given everyone a chance to refresh," he said. "There's pros and cons for everything. For me personally [in the break], I ended up having knee surgery in April so I was able to rehab that very well without having the pressure of having to get back onto the field and play right away."
When asked about his revitalised fitness levels propelling him to greater heights, Dunk joked he would have more to offer this time around. "The knee problem was hindering me from running and other things, which meant I had to try and hit more boundaries so it helped in that sense," he said in humour.
Dunk has not made an appearance on the international circuit for over three years but he continues to be in high demand in the T20 arena. He has established his status as a T20 globetrotter and had a rather steep workload before the unprecedented Covid-19 break.
Dunk dominated the Mzansi Super League and finished as the leading run-getter in the tournament, playing for Nelson Mandela Bay Giants. He later took part in the Big Bash League for Melbourne Stars and headed straight to Pakistan for the PSL, all in the span of a few months.
"I've played cricket for 10-12 years and I feel extremely lucky from an injury point of view so this was just a minor operation to hopefully extend my career to a few more years. I had been putting it off for a while now as I had a pretty heavy schedule last year. I was in South Africa playing those T20s, then I had the Big Bash and then straight out to the PSL," Dunk elaborated.
"It was something like 40 games over a three-month period with international travel all over the world so the body was starting to get a little tired. The lockdown due to the pandemic was important for me to get rest and relaxation and spend some time with my family."
Dunk now enters the resumption of PSL with a Caribbean Premier League (CPL) stint as he amassed 155 runs in nine innings for St Kitts and Nevis Patriots in the competition - a testament to his reinvigorated fitness.
"I went to the Caribbean Premier League and played 10 games in 20 days there so there are no concerns about my fitness right now. I feel really blessed to play whilst a global pandemic and if I can make one child or one adult smile doing what I do, then it is definitely worth it," he said.
The 33-year-old will be aiming to add more to his tally of 266 runs at a stupendous strike of 186.01 in PSL 2020 and make history for the Qalandars. The hapless fans of the Lahore-based franchise haven't had much to cheer about since the inception of the league but Dunk believes this year will be one to cherish for the team.
"I do really rate our chances of winning the tournament. I've flown all the way around the world for us to take part in these finals. I wouldn't have done that if we didn't have a good chance to win and we've got guys playing really well for the Pakistan international team and guys performing in the domestic competition, which was a lead-in to these finals. I am really confident and the local boys are very skilled."
Qalandars will be without high-profile pick Chris Lynn in the playoffs. The Aussie T20 maestro had blasted his maiden PSL century in the crucial clash against Multan Sultans on the cusp of the indefinite postponement of the league. Qalandars have replaced Lynn with Bangladesh ODI captain Tamim Iqbal and Dunk hopes the batting giant can perform considerably well.
"He really wanted to come, unfortunately, due to modern day cricket commitments, he can't make it. Whenever you lose a quality player like Chris, it does change the dynamics of the team. I'm hopeful Tamim or Dane Vilas will step up. And that's the great thing about our squad, we still have a lot of the bases covered," Dunk said.
The stature of PSL has grown exponentially after it was launched in 2016. From the UAE deserts to lighting up stadiums in Pakistan accompanied by the electrifying atmosphere, the league has attracted the biggest cricketing stars.
Having also played in the MSL, CPL, BBL and IPL, Dunk holds a highly favourable opinion of the PSL. He extolled the quality of sporting action witnessed in the league and relished the unparalleled competitive nature of the PSL.
"The quality [of PSL] is extremely high. The chatter amongst international players and the guys back home is that we know this competition is a tough one. There are only six teams and Pakistan play amazing T20 cricket, they were No. 1 in the world not that long ago," Dunk pointed out.
"When you start putting all of those things in place as well as playing in Pakistan with the local players who are full of talent and know the home conditions really well, it makes it tough work for international players to perform. This makes it all the more special when I look back and have those performances that are noteworthy and making memories against some of the best players in the world. It's an extremely tough league, it's one I enjoy coming to for various reasons and like I said, hopefully over the next week, Lahore can lift the trophy for the first time."