Pakistan Super League (PSL) season five will commence tomorrow with the mouthwatering contest between two-time champions Islamabad United and reigning champions Quetta Gladiators.
Quetta's stalwart and former Pakistan captain, Sarfaraz Ahmed, will be calling the shots in the tournament opener while inexperienced skipper, Shadab Khan will marshall United's troops.
Shadab's own form has been under the scanner since the ICC ODI 2019 World Cup and he will be desperate to get back to his menacing best in the league that once paved the way for his international debut.
United owner Ali Naqvi has been a big fan of Shadab and considered him a suitable candidate for leading the side: "No one encapsulates that commitment quite like Shadab. His rise over the past three years and the way he has conducted himself through that rise have been exemplary. Furthermore, his knowledge and understanding of the game mean that he is someone that is ideally suited for the responsibility that comes with such a post."
Both teams have been fiercely competitive in the preceding seasons and have seldom been an easy team to overpower. Gladiators batting will hinge on the kind of start Shane Watson and Ahmed Shehzad will provide while Umar Akmal's contribution down the order could very well again become Quetta's blueprint for success.
Watson hit a purple patch with the bat last year and his penchant for scoring big runs earned him the player of the tournament award. He amassed a record 438 runs at a terrific strike rate of 143.8 and ended the season with an average of 43. Jason Roy is the other platinum signing who has got the prowess to single-handedly change the complexion of a game.
Umar Akmal chipped in with useful cameos for Quetta in the last season and finished the edition with 277 runs that he scored at an average of 34.62.
As far as the bowling department is concerned, Mohammad Nawaz has thrived in UAE tracks and he is expected to get assistance from the pitches in Pakistan as well. If he gets his radar right with the new ball, it could be difficult to dominate him inside the powerplay overs but in case he loses his radar, he becomes a batsman's delight. Nawaz will join Australian spinner Fawad Ahmed to form a potent spin attack.
The contingent of fast bowlers will be spearheaded by Tymal Mills while lots of expectations will be from the young sensation, Naseem Shah, who is tipped to carry his Test cricket form into white-ball cricket.
Another rookie speedster, Mohammad Hasnain, burst onto the scene last year for Quetta. He clocked late 140s and earned national team call-up subsequently. His progression since his PSL debut will be a matter of keen interest.
Islamabad United will be reliant on the nucleus of their side which has helped them clinch PSL trophy twice and so the likes of Rumman Raees, Asif Ali, Faheem Ashraf and Hussain Talat will once again strive to win another PSL title. That said, apart from Luke Ronchi, who has had enormous success with Islamabad, there are not many star-studded players in the outfit.
David Malan and Phil Salt's acclimatization on Pakistan tracks and how they manage quality spinners is going to determine United's fortunes.
Islamabad United replaced Rassie van der Dussen with Dawid Malan owing to Proteas middle-order batsman's national duties. Furthermore, Quetta have roped in leg-spinner Zahid Mehmood as a partial replacement for Keemo Paul - who will be busy until March 7 due to international commitments.
Misbah-ul-Haq ran into controversy after accepting the role of head coach position for Islamabad as he assumed the dual role of the chief selector and head coach with the national team and all the familiar talk surrounding conflict of interest made the headlines of late but Misbah has discarded all concerns.
The first match of HBL PSL V will start at 9 pm local time after a spectacular opening ceremony and the weather is expected to stay clear with no chances of rain.
Sarfaraz Ahmed (c, wk), Mohammad Nawaz, Jason Roy, Shane Watson, Ahmed Shehzad, Ben Cutting, Umar Akmal, Mohammad Hasnain, Fawad Ahmed, Ahsan Ali, Naseem Shah, Sohail Khan, Tymal Mills, Abdul Nasir Arish Ali Khan, Azam Khan, Zahid Mehmood, Khurram Manzoor
Shadab Khan (c), Dale Steyn, Colin Ingram, Faheem Ashraf, Asif Ali, Colin Munro, Luke Ronchi, Hussain Talat, Rumman Raees, Amad Butt, Musa Khan, Rizwan Hussain, Zafar Gohar, Phil Salt Aqif Javed, Ahmed Safi Abdullah. Supplementary: Saif Badar, Dawid Malan