The Pakistan Super League (PSL) may well be the most competitive tournament in world cricket. Margins at the PSL have been small so far and they will continue to be small this time around too.
Matches will be decided by a hair’s breadth so it is all the more important that teams answer all the questions that they face before the start of the PSL. We take a look at three of the biggest questions each team faces.
Where will the runs come from?
Multan Sultan started brightly last year but then fell away so emphatically that they didn’t even finish in the top four despite at one point being favourites to finish top.
Steven Smith has been ruled out due to injury and Kumar Sangakkara is no longer a part of the side. Multan may well have put all their eggs in very specific batting baskets.
What number will Malik bat on?
Multan are a bottom-heavy side that boasts the firepower of Shoaib Malik, Andre Russell and of course Shahid Afridi to name a few but may struggle to find the right balance in the batting line-up.
With so many players capable of providing the late impetus, it will be interesting to see whether skipper Malik decides to promote himself up the order and anchor the innings for his side.
How will the big names fare?
Afridi, Rusell, Malik alongside the likes of Junaid Khan, Muhammad Irfan, Shan Masood, Mohammad Abbas and James Vince makes for a strong team on paper but it will be interesting to see whether these household names can live up to the billing.
Apart from a few, they are either past their prime or playing in a format they aren’t particularly suited for.
How will Kamran Akmal perform?
Kamran Akmal has taken a liking to the Pakistan Super League, and the wicketkeeper batsman has almost made it a habit of saving his best for the mega tournament.
Peshawar have punched above their weight in almost every tournament and Kamran’s performances at the top of the order are one of the biggest reasons for it. How he performs this time around may well determine how far Peshawar go.
What role will Misbah play?
Like Multan, Peshawar boast a lot of explosive power in their late middle order. The likes of Darren Sammy, SohaibMaqsood, Keiron Pollard, Umar Amin and Chris Jordan are all players who are more comfortable towards the latter part of the innings.
Misbah, all of 44 years old, has the experience and the knowhow to hold up one end and play the long knock while others go for boundaries from the other end. With so much hitting power late on, Sammy may even be tempted to promote one of Wahab Riaz or Hasan Ali up the order a la Sunil Narine.
How will the pacers perform?
One of the lasting images of PSL3 was Wahab Riaz stroking his Mitchell Johnson-inspired moustache after every wicket.
The left-armer from Lahore was among the wickets in last edition and Sammy has an enviable barrage of pacers to call upon. Hasan, Wahab and Jordan will play a crucial role as Sammy and his men look to win their second PSL title after narrowly missing out last year.
Will Sarfaraz continue to inspire Quetta?
Skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed led Pakistan to 11 consecutive T20I series wins under his captaincy and is the ideal man to lead unfancied Quetta Gladiators once again.
The Gladiators have played in two finals previously but could not cross the final hurdle. Sarfaraz has improved as a captain every year and Quetta will need all his canniness if they are to compete for the title once again.
How will they utilise their experienced overseas stars?
Quetta’s roster includes the veteran trio of Shane Watson, Dwayne Braro and Sunil Narine, and Sarfaraz may arguably have the best mix of overseas players at his disposal. Shane Watson is the highest scoring foreign batsman in PSL history and is second only to Kamran Akmal in the number of sixes he has hit.
Apart from having an economy rate of just 6.22, as well as the third best strike-rate in the competition’s history, Quetta will be looking to make full use of Narine’s bowling and newfound batting abilities; even though he has been ruled out of the earlier stages of the tournament by a finger injury.
How will the local talent fare?
Opener Ahmad Shahzad has scored 705 runs for Quetta in the PSL so far, and lags behind only Kamran and Babar in the scoring charts.
Spinner Mohammad Nawaz tally of 30 wickets is also the highest for a spinner in the PSL and is behind only pacers Wahab and Sami in the all-time rankings.
Sarfaraz will once again be turning to his two key local talents during crunch situations.
What can AB de Villiers do for Lahore?
AB de Villiers is one of the biggest names in cricket and he joins perpetual underperformers Lahore Qalandars for the fourth edition.
If anybody can get this team out of their rut then it is the former South Africa skipper, who can be delightful and devastating in equal measure.
Lahore fans will be hoping De Villiers’ presence proves to be a shot in the arm of a team struggling for any semblance of momentum in the league.
Will the senior players step up?
Lahore’s new captain Mohammad Hafeez has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders and will be hoping international teammates Yasir Shah, FakharZaman and HarisSohail can step up the plate as well.
The Qalandars have been let down in the past by their experienced men so the quartet will be doubly determined to prove the critics wrong.
Will absence of big foreign names haunt Lahore?
The Lahore outfit may boast arguably the biggest foreign name of the lot in De Villiers but there is little else that will get the average Lahore fan excited for tournament.
Zimbabwean batsman Brendan Taylor and World T20I final hero Carlos Brathwaite are part of the squad but do not get the excitement flowing in the same way that De Villiers or other high-profile global cricketing names do.
How will Karachi get the best out of their players?
On paper, Karachi Kings have one of the best squads in the entire league but the side has struggled to set the tournament alight so far.
The team’s biggest issue has been a lack of firepower at the top of the innings and that may well continue to haunt them in the fourth season as well.
Will Karachi stick with one captain?
Karachi Kings have had a whopping six different captains in just three years. Luckily for them, current skipper Imad Wasim has the best win ratio of all their skippers, having won four of the eight games that he has been in charge of the side for.
Can Babar Azam continue his brilliant form?
Having the world’s best T20I batsman in your side is quite a handy advantage indeed but Babar will have continue his impressive form if he is to guide Karachi to a maiden title.
The young top-order batsman showed his ability to adapt to any situation and has added another gear to his game. His ability to increase his strike-rate will be invaluable when Karachi invariably struggle for momentum at the top of the innings.
Can Islamabad continue their impressive run?
Islamabad United have an impressive record in the Pakistan Super League, having won it twice in three editions so far. The two-time champions enjoy a 62.5% win ratio thanks to their impressive performances against all five sides throughout the three years so far.
The likes of Ian Bell, Cameron Delport, Phil Salt and Wayne Parnell will all provide the side with new blood while Muhammad Sami, Shadab Khan, Luke Ronchi, Samit Patel and RummanRaeescontinue to be the crux of the team.
How will the new leadership fare?
Veteran pacer Mohammad Sami has been given the reins of the team for the fourth edition of the domestic competition. Sami is an experienced campaigner and is the only bowler to take a hat-trick in all three formats of the game.
The side’s top wicket-taker so far has been superb for Islamabad so far but his leadership skills will be tested with nowhere to hide in the shortest format of the game.
Can Islamabad capitalise on their balance once again?
Islamabad still boast the most balanced side in the entire tournament, with a perfect blend of youthful exuberance and the wisdom that comes only with experience.
The 15-yer gap between the two openers, 37-year-old Luke Ronchi and 22-year-old Sahibzada Farhan, shows just how perfectly the side has managed to blend the two extremes.
The team boasts an entire array of all-rounders such as Cameron Delport, Amad Butt, HussainTalat, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf and Samit Patel that can fire with both bat and ball, while their bowling attack also doesn’t look too shabby with the likes of Sami and Shadab spearheading the pace and spin departments.