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The fourth edition of Pakistan Super League starts February 14. The draft for the season was held in November, followed by a replacement draft last month to replace injured/unavailable players. Now that the squads are final and the players will start reaching the UAE in a few days, Cricingif looks at some of the key players for each side’s aspirations to lift the PSL trophy this year.

Islamabad United

The defending champions Islamabad United will be without their regular skipper Misbah-ul-Haq this year. The 42-year-old was picked by Peshawar Zalmi in the players draft. Though the impact of Misbah’s absence will be much less than JP Duminy, who had to withdraw due to international commitments. Mohammad Sami has been named the skipper of the side.

 Mohammad Sami has been named Islamabad United skipper ©Chris Whiteoak

Mohammad Sami has been named Islamabad United skipper ©Chris Whiteoak

United added England veteran Ian Bell, Sussex youngster Phil Salt and South African duo of Wayne Parnell and Cameron Delport to their squad this year while retaining Luke Ronchi and Samit Patel from the title-winning side.

Luke Ronchi

Ronchi, who was instrumental in Islamabad’s journey throughout the third PSL season and was both the final’s player of the match and player of the season, will be key to their chances of defending the title this year as well. The 37-year-old had smashed 435 runs in 11 innings at 43.5. Ronchi’s recent T20 outing was for Kabul Zwanan in Afghanistan Premier League were below-par though, with the former Kiwi wicketkeeper only managing one fifty in 10 innings.

Waqas Maqsood

Waqas Maqsood made his international debut in the T20I series against New Zealand in November last year after consistent performances in the domestic circuit and with Pakistan A side. Maqsood picked seven wickets in five unofficial T20 games against England Lions and New Zealand A side later last year and was also the top wicket-taker in the one-day games against the England Lions with 12 scalps in four games at 12.5.

Peshawar Zalmi

Peshawar Zalmi will be without their regular top-order batsman Mohammad Hafeez this year, who has left for Lahore Qalandars. The rest of the side, except for a few changes, shows the similar balance witnessed over the past three seasons.

 Kamran Akmal has been a top performer in PSL ©PCB

Kamran Akmal has been a top performer in PSL ©PCB

The bowling attack will be led by Hasan Ali and Wahab Riaz as usual while Kamran Akmal, the most successful batsman in PSL history, will continue to be the key figure for the side. Dawid Malan, who has enjoyed considerable success with Peshawar, returns this year after missing out last season due to international commitments.

Kamran Akmal

With 929 runs, 85 fours and 49 sixes and 30 dismissals, Kamran Akmal has been the most successful batsman and wicket-keeper of PSL. The eldest of Akmal brothers will be key to a Peshawar top-order deprived of the services of the Mohammad Hafeez. Akmal was the second highest run-getter after Islamabad’s Luke Ronchi with 425 runs at 38.63 including a century and four fifties. Akmal smashed 225 runs in five innings at 45 including two fifties in the recently concluded Pakistan Cup.

Umaid Asif

Umaid Asif was not originally drafted by Peshawar and only came into the side after injuries to a few of their players. The right-arm pacer had an instant impact and was a constant feature until the final where they eventually lost to Islamabad United, taking 13 wickets in 12 games. Asif was the joint highest wicket-taker in the recently concluded Pakistan Cup with 16 scalps in nine games. He also took seven wickets in three T20 games against New Zealand A and has been on the fringes of international selection.

Lahore Qalandars

Lahore Qalandars have been the worst side in the PSL history, finishing at the bottom of the table in all three seasons. They have also been the most imbalanced side, almost overhauling their side in all three seasons. With Brendon McCullum out, Mohammad Hafeez has taken charge - one of the main concern of team owners and some players was the lack of communication with a foreign skipper. This time around, Qalandars look much more balanced but might lack a bit in bowling a number of all-rounders.

AB de Villiers

With the choice to pick one of Steve Smith and AB de Villiers, the Qalandars went with the latter, possibly because of the former’s availability in the long term once his international ban ends. With Fakhar Zaman and Mohammad Hafeez, De Villiers will form a strong top order for Qalandars with a number of all-rounders to follow.

 De Villiers will form a solid top order for Qalandars ©Getty Images

De Villiers will form a solid top order for Qalandars ©Getty Images

Shaheen Shah Afridi

Since the last PSL, Shaheen Afridi has gone on to play for Pakistan in all three formats and almost cementing his place in the side as frontline seamer in the company of Mohammad Amir, Usman Shinwari, Hasan Ali and Junaid Khan. The 18-year-old is expected to lead the Qalandars’ attack with Rahat Ali and will be crucial in early as well as death overs.

Karachi Kings

Karachi Kings will be without their star all-rounder Shahid Afridi but overall their batting looks impressive with the presence of Babar Azam, Colin Munro, Liam Livingstone and Colin Ingram. Their bowling consists of Mohammad Amir, Usman Shinwari and Sohail Khan. Karachi will be hoping to break the shackles this time around and come on top in this year’s PSL.

Babar Azam

Babar Azam has arguably been the best batsman for Pakistan on the South Africa tour. His recent T20 form has been outstanding as well - a glimpse of which we saw in his blistering 58-ball 90 against South Africa at Johannesburg. He will be providing the much-needed stability at the top of the order for Karachi Kings with his risk-free batsmanship. Babar has scored 708 runs in 24 PSL games and stands second on the list for the highest run-getters.

 Babar Azam has been a standout performer on South Africa tour ©PCB

Babar Azam has been a standout performer on South Africa tour ©PCB

Imad Wasim

Imad’s wicket-to-wicket style of bowling can make it extremely difficult for the opposition to score against him. He doesn’t spin the ball as much. In fact, he bowls at a flat trajectory which makes it harder for the batsmen to step out of the crease against him. His head injury in the last season was a massive blow for Karachi as he had to miss out on the last couple of important games for his side. His all-round ability will hold Karachi Kings in good stead.

Quetta Gladiators

Quetta Gladiators will be hoping to turn things around in this year’s PSL as they have a history of missing out on the crucial stages of the tournament. Again, they possess a decent crop of batsmen with the presence of Watson, Rossouw, Umer Akmal and Dwayne Bravo.

Rilee Rossouw

Rilee is the top-scorer for Rangpur Riders in the ongoing Bangladesh Premier League with 558 runs in 13 innings. He has been an integral part of Quetta Gladiators from the first season and will hold an important role in the upcoming season of the PSL. He will form a strong combination in the Quetta’s middle order alongside Umer Akmal and Sarfraz Ahmed.

Fawad Ahmed

Fawad Ahmed will be a trump card for Quetta Gladiators following his outstanding performance for Trinbago Knight Riders as he bagged 22 wickets in the CPL 2018 and had the highest number of wickets in the tournament. He can the spin the ball sharply and possesses an impressive googly which surely can deceive a lot of batsmen.

 Fawad Ahmed has been the leading wicket taker in CPL 2018 ©Getty Images

Fawad Ahmed has been the leading wicket taker in CPL 2018 ©Getty Images

Multan Sultans

Multan Sultans will be missing out on the services of former Australia skipper Steve Smith. Overall their side looks balanced with decent players in the batting line-up. Their pace bowling stocks include the likes of Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan while the all-rounder slots will be filled by Shahid Afridi and Andre Russell, who are known to turn things around quickly for their side quickly.

Shoaib Malik

One of the most experienced players in world cricket right now, Shoaib Malik can be a real asset for any side in the shortest format of the game. He plays spin exceptionally well in the middle overs and can take the bowlers on at the death. He will be leading Multan Sultans once again this season and with the absence of Aussie veteran Steve Smith, Malik’s role in the side will be even more crucial now.

Laurie Evans

Laurie Evans had made a significant while representing Kabul Zwanan in the Afghanistan Premier League held in Sharjah last year. In nine matches, he scored 305 runs at an average of 61.00. The Sussex batsman showed his ability to control the spinners as well as switch gears and take on the bowling. He will be holding the key for Multan Sultans in the middle order.