Two-time HBL Pakistan Super League champions Islamabad United will kick off their title defence against Lahore Qalandars in the tournament opener in Dubai on February 14. The match will be played following what is expected to be a sensational and eye-catching opening ceremony.
United won the first title in 2016 and second in 2018. With 19 out of 32 wins, they have the highest win percentage (59.67 per cent) in the HBL PSL.
United have bolstered their squad for the fourth edition by picking Ian Bell of England and Welshman Phil Salt. The two will be in the action for the very first time in one of the world’s most followed and watched domestic leagues.
Bell ostensibly has been brought in to counter spin � his average against spin in T20s in 2018 was 187.00 � while Salt, who scored 433 runs at a strike-rate of 173.20 in T20s last year, will look to open the innings with Luke Ronchi or could also play the role of a power-hitter in the last phase of the innings.
If Salt opens, United will arguably have the most destructive opening pair in the tournament considering Ronchi’s performance in the previous HBL PSL. The New Zealander topped the batting charts in the last edition with 435 runs at a strike-rate of 182.00.
United, however, will miss the services of Misbah-ul-Haq, their former captain and the mastermind behind the two title wins, as he was snapped up by Peshawar Zalmi in the HBL PSL Player Draft held in Islamabad this past November.
United’s ability to bounce back from precarious situations is worth talking about. In the first HBL PSL, at one point it seemed they would even struggle to reach the play-offs, but then they won five games in a row to lift the trophy in Dubai.
A major reason behind United’s success in the HBL PSL has been their bowling. Shadab Khan, the number-two bowler in the ICC T20I Rankings, and Faheem Ashraf, the eighth-ranked fast bowler, are the two key figures in their arsenal.
Faheem was the joint-leading wicket-taker, alongside Zalmi’s Wahab Riaz, in the previous tournament with 18 wickets.
In addition to the two Pakistan line-up bowlers, United also have Samit Patel, the England all-rounder who was the best spinner in the previous HBL PSL by accounting for 13 wickets at 14.46, including two important scalps in the final against Zalmi in Karachi.
Rumman Raees, Mohammad Sami and Zafar Gohar are some other bowlers who have been vital to United’s success in the previous three tournaments.
The cricket lovers of the country and United fans will be keeping an eye on their two rookie players Rizwan Hussain and Mohammad Musa in the coming tournament.
Rizwan is an aggressive opening batsman from Lahore, who recently scored 311 runs at a strike-rate of 131.77 in the National T20 tournament in Multan, while Musa is an 18-year-old seamer from Islamabad, who came into the limelight with four wickets against India in the semi-final of the ICC U19 World Cup 2018.
United this year will also get to play at the Gaddafi Stadium for the first time as their last group game is against Lahore Qalandars on 9 March. This means their three Lahore-born players � Zafar, Rizwan and Hussain Talat � could get an opportunity to perform in front of the home crowd for the first time in HBL PSL.
Hussain Talat said: To play in front of the home ground is every player’s dream. Lahore is my hometown and I’ll be looking to play for Islamabad United against Lahore Qalandars at the Gaddafi Stadium. I am very excited ahead of the fourth HBL PSL. It is a tournament, which is getting stronger and increasingly competitive by the day.
It is my fourth season with the United. I must say it is a great tournament for the youngsters as we get to play along with the best players of the world, which provides us a chance to improve our cricket. I am very excited and looking forward to it.
Squad (in pick order):
Overseas: Luke Ronchi (New Zealand), Ian Bell (England), Samit Patel (England), Phil Salt (Wales), Cameron Delport (South Africa), Wayne Parnell (South Africa), Zahir Khan (Afghanistan)
Local: Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Asif Ali, Mohammad Sami, Rumman Raees, Hussain Talat, Waqas Maqsood, Sahibzada Farhan, Zafar Gohar, Mohammad Musa, Nasir Nawaz, Amad Butt, Rizwan Hussain.
Schedule of matches:
14 February � v Lahore Qalandars (n), Dubai
16 February � v Multan Sultans (d), Dubai
17 February � v Quetta Gladiators (d), Dubai
22 February � v Peshawar Zalmi (n), Sharjah
23 February � v Karachi Kings (n), Sharjah
26 February � Multan Sultans (n), Dubai
27 February � v Karachi Kings (n), Dubai
1 March � v Peshawar Zalmi (d), Dubai
5 March � v Quetta Gladiators (n), Abu Dhabi
9 March � v Lahore Qalandars (n), Lahore
Source: Pakistan Super League