New-look Gladiators hope to put recent slump behind them; Amir’s form crucial to Karachi Kings’ chances

Quetta Gladiators

Captain: Sarfaraz Ahmed

Coach: Moin Khan

Full squad: Sarfaraz Ahmed (capt), Shimron Hetmyer, Will Smeed, James Faulkner, Mohammad Nawaz, Iftikhar Ahmed, Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Hasnain, Naseem Shah, Umar Akmal, Sohail Tanvir, Ben Duckett, Khurram Shahzad, Luke Wood, Abdul Bangalzai, Asher Qureshi, Ali Imran, Ahsan Ali, Dan Lawrence, Ghulam Mudassar

Last season: Finished bottom (eliminated after group stage)

Gladiators appeared to have the firepower to challenge for the title last season, but a combination of poor fortune – they lost each of their first six tosses – and a star cast that underperformed doomed them well before the business end of the tournament. Dale Steyn, in particular, found himself off the pace, and in a number of tight games, the bowlers found the pressure getting to them as they looked to defend totals.

Sarfaraz’s mounting frustration, often publicly directed at them, gave off the image of a disjointed, demoralised side, but a number of below-par showings as a team meant the other five franchises pulled away fairly quickly. While the other fellow Karachi strugglers Multan Sultans upped their game in Abu Dhabi, the Gladiators wilted further, with a 110-run thumping at Sultans’ hands in their penultimate game perhaps a fitting reflection of how the season had gone for them.

What’s changed for the season?

Plenty, and perhaps not enough at quite the same time. Azam Khan has been traded out for Iftikhar Ahmed, who’s in the form of his life, and might yet become the Gladiators’ X-factor. Umar Akmal returns to the PSL for the first time since he helped the Gladiators to the title in 2019. James Vince and Sohail Tanvir have moved to the franchise from the Sultans, while instead of Steyn, the overseas fast bowler this time is Englishman Luke Wood.

But a side that reached three of the first four finals doesn’t quite appear to have made the wholesale changes required to correct their recent slump. Mohammad Hasnain and Naseem Shah are a touch too similar to truly balance out a bowling attack; the cloud hanging over Hasnain concerning his bowling action is concerning enough as it is.

James Faulkner was successful in Abu Dhabi but his medium left arm might not carry the same potence in Pakistan. The absence of Jason Roy and Vince from the start could be an issue, with no obvious opening replacements of a similar calibre. Moin Khan and Sarfaraz Ahmed continue as coach and captain respectively, who have overseen both the rise and then the fall of this franchise. If they can orchestrate another successful season, it might be their most salient achievement yet.

Player to watch

Umar Akmal has at times become the subject of ridicule and outrage within Pakistan cricket, but when it comes to the PSL, few Pakistani batters match his consistency. He remains in the top 15 highest scorers in the competition’s history despite not playing the last two seasons; no players with fewer games has more runs than him. His 604 runs have come at a strike rate of 137.91; of the Pakistan batters with more PSL runs, only Asif Ali (164.29) and Sharjeel Khan (144.74) outpace his scoring rate. Suggesting Umar is the same player he was before this lengthy absence, or that he’s even as sharp, would be foolhardy, but he nevertheless remains an intriguing cricketer to keep an eye on over the next month.

Key stat

Sarfaraz is the only player to have captained his side in every PSL season. His record since being appointed Quetta Gladiators skipper at the inception of the league reads 32 wins, 29 losses.