The relative merits of the six franchises preparing to compete in the third Pakistan Super League are assessed by James Buttler, with every game being shown on Betfair Live Video. Prepare for a cracker...
"The big two for me are Zalmi and Gladiators, but the team that could spoil their party are the Kings. 4/1 is a fair price and with Afridi relishing a new franchise and a fresh challenge they could go all the way."
The third edition of the Pakistan Super League gets underway on 22 February as the brilliantly named Multan Sultans become the newest and sixth PSL side as they join Karachi Kings, Islamabad United, Lahore Qalandars, Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi to vie for the title.
Peshawar Zalmi begin the defence of their title against the Sultans in the tournament opener, the first of 34 matches, the group matches taking place before the competition returns to Pakistan for the knockout phase will also see matches to be played in Lahore and Karachi. It's further evidence after the success of last season's final that cricket is coming home to Pakistan. The final this year will be staged in Karachi on 25 March.
This tournament goes from strength-to-strength with the quality of players recruited rising and the proud nation of Pakistan keen to close the gap on rivals India's flagship Indian Premier League.
Peshawar Zalmi - 3/1
Peshawar Zalmi, led again by Darren Sammy, lifted their first PSL trophy last season. Sammy is joined by fellow Caribbean stars Andre Fletcher, and Dwayne Bravo in the squad. They look well placed to succeed again.
Former captain Shahid Afridi has moved on to Karachi Kings but Mohammad Akram remains as coach and with Mohammad Hafeez, Wahab Riaz, Shakib al Hasan, Sammy, Chris Jordan and Hasan Ali in their line-up they have all bases covered.
Kamran Akmal's runs were crucial to their success last season and if Riki Wessels can replicate the form he shows for Nottinghamshire they have another top order batsman who only has high gears.
Verdict: Certainly not false favourites at 3/1. They have the belief from last year and a well-balanced squad, but the loss of Afridi could have an effect and they are not my pick to win, but they will make the play-offs.
Squad: Darren Sammy (capt). Mohammad Hafeez, Wahab Riaz, Shakib al Hasan, Kamran Akmal, Hasan Ali, Haris Sohail, Chris Jordan, Mohammad Asghar, Dwayne Bravo, Tamim Iqbal, Hammad Azam, Saad Nasim, Taimoor Sultan, Sameen Gul, Ibtisam Sheikh, Andre Fletcher, Rikki Wessels, Khalid Usman, Muhammad Arif, Khushdil Shah, Liam Dawson (cover for Shakib al Hasan), Umaid Asif (cover for Hasan Ali).
Quetta Gladiators - 7/2
Two-time runners-up Quetta Gladiators could well go one better in 2018. Sarfaraz Ahmed leads a side that boasts the two leading young T20 talents in world cricket today.
19-year-old Afghan leggie Rashid Khan has rapidly risen to number one in the ICC World T20 rankings. Khan is wiser than his age suggests, is ever improving, adding guile to his game and is a ridiculously generous 14/1 to be the leading wicket-taker in this PSL. Jofra Archer is also worth a look in the bowling stakes at 12/1. He was a late addition to the Gladiators squad to replace the injured Carlos Brathwaite. Archer was born in Barbados, plays for Sussex and is intent on playing for England when his residency in Hove allows. Until then the 22-year-old is illuminating tournaments with his quick bowling and athletic fielding.
Add to that young pairing the experience of mentor Viv Richards and the batting of Kevin Pietersen, Shane Watson, Jason Roy and Rilee Rossouw and this Gladiators side will be very hard to beat.
Veridct: Almost my pick to win and I wouldn't put anyone off backing them at 7/2, a price that has real appeal.
Squad: Sarfraz Ahmed (capt), Rilee Rossouw, Jason Roy, Kevin Pietersen, Rameez Raja, Asad Shafiq, Shane Watson, Umar Amin, Mohammad Nawaz, Mahmudullah, Jofra Archer, Saad Ali, Saud Shakeel, Rashid Khan, Anwar Ali, Hassan Khan Mohammad, Mir Hamza, Rahat Aliakes.
Karachi Kings - 4/1
A 4th and then 3rd place finish for the Karachi Kings so far in the PSL and they've recruited wisely to improve this season. Veteran paceman Mitchell Johnson has proven in the Big Bash that he still has the speed and guile to fluster top batsmen and with Joe Denly, Lendl Simmons, Eoin Morgan and Colin Ingram bolstering the batting the Kings look well set.
Ravi Bopara starred for them with the bat last season and with Shahid Afridi joining from Zalmi they have Pakistan's top star in their team too. If Boom Boom goes Bang Bang with bat and ball the Kings could well find themselves with the crown.
Imad Wasim captains the side and the 29-year-old all-rounder will be hoping to make his mark overseen by experienced coach Mickey Arthur overseeing them.
Verdict: The big two for me are Zalmi and Gladiators, but the team that could spoil their party are the Kings. 4/1 is a fair price and one I am taking with Afridi relishing a new franchise and challenge the Kings could go all the way.
Squad: Imad Wasim (capt), Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Amir, Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Ravi Bopara, Usman Khan Shinwari, Usama Mir, Khurram Manzoor, Colin Ingram, Tymal Mills, Joe Denly, David Wiese, Tabish Khan, Mohammad Irfan, Hasan Mohsin, Lendl Simmons, Eoin Morgan and Saifullah Bangash.
Lahore Qalandars - 9/2
We go into another high profile T20 tournament with the fitness of stellar opener Chris Lynn a major talking point. Lynn once again dislocated his shoulder when diving in the field when playing for Australia in the recent T20 tri-series and his tag as the most expensive pick in the draft looks shaky. He will certainly miss the start of the PSL and it's possible he could not play at all.
Without Lynn, captain Brendon McCullum still has a powerful top order with himself, Umar Akmal, and Fakhar Zaman all capable of maximising the powerplay overs.
The Aqib Javed coached Qalandars have added Sohail Khan, Mitchell McClenaghan and Mustafizur Rahman to their squad. Sunil Narine will weave his magic with the ball and could form a formidable spin pairing with Yasir Shah.
Qalandars will be determined to rid their franchise of the tag of being the only existing side never to have made the play-offs after finishing bottom of the pile in both seasons, but they have been rocked by an injury to Angelo Matthews that has forced him out and having spent big on Lynn and with a likely nil-return on that investment sees them likely to struggle once more.
Verdict: The perennial wooden spoonists could see success as handing that tag to another side. I couldn't back them at double the available 9/2.
Squad: Brendon McCullum (capt), Fakhar Zaman, Chris Lynn, Umar Akmal, Denesh Ramdin, Anton Devcich, Bilal Asif, Cameron Delport, Bilawal Bhatti, Aamer Yamin, Ghulam Mudassar, Mitchell McClenaghan, Mustafizur Rahman, Sunil Narine, Raza Hasan, Shaheen Afridi, Sohail Khan, Yasir Shah.
Islamabad United - 5/1
After lifting the inaugural trophy Islamabad retained the majority of their squad expecting a repeat, but 2017 was a huge disappointment and the side, captained by Misbah-ul-Haq, will feel pressure to bounce back.
West Indian all-rounder Andre Russell brightens any T20 tournament and he has been sorely missed for the last year as he served his suspension for missing drug tests. But he returns for the PSLt20 and he is a huge asset to Islamabad.
Wasim Akram has moved to Multan Sultans and the role of director of cricket has gone to his former pace partner Waqar Younis. Dean Jones continues as head coach.
Faheem Ashraf, the 24-year-old Pakistan international possesses the all-round ability to complement Russell's skills. He is an explosive hitter who bowls fast and could be a hidden gem in this Gladiators side. Alex Hales is a proven performer in the T20 arena and it would be a surprise if the England star doesn't shine after recently devoting all of his attention to white ball cricket. At 20/1 Hales provides significant value to be the tournament's leading scorer.
Verdict: With real match-winners in the side Islamabad will take a few scalps, but the play-offs is the limit and their price of 9/2 is too short.
Squad: Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Mohammad Sami, Andre Russell, Rumman Raees, Shadab Khan, Samuel Badree, Iftikhar Ahmed, Amad Butt, Asif Ali, JP Duminy, Luke Ronchi, Faheem Ashraf, Sam Billings, Zafar Gohar, Sahibzada Farhan, Hussain Talat, Alex Hales, Steven Finn (replaced David Willey), Mohammad Hasan, Mohammad Hasnain (injured), Rohail Nazir, Samit Patel, Chadwick Walton.
Multan Sultans - 13/2
The new boys of the PSL, Multan Sultans will hope their qualities as an unknown quantity will surprise a few and they have recruited well. Wasim Akram oversees the side which will be coached by experienced Australian Tom Moody.
The Sultans possess the batting talents of Ahmed Shehzad, Sohaib Maqsood, Shoaib Malik and Kumar Sangakkara in the squad. Kieron Pollard and Sohail Tanvir are the all-rounders and with Junaid Khan, Imran Tahir and Mohammad Irfan they should have no worries with the ball. Imran Tahir shoulders the responsibility in the spin department.
Skipper Shehzad is the PSL's leading run-scorer and has to lead from the front if the Sultans are going to be a first-time success. He's joint favourite at 10/1 alongside Qalandars Fakhar Zaman to be leading runscorer in the tournament. While Nicholas Pooran will miss the first three matches he's a talented wicket-keeper batsman who could sneak up on a few with his displays. English all-rounder Ross Whiteley is rightly emerging as a match-winner in T20 tournaments around the world and is one to keep an eye on.
Verdict: An unknown quantity with some stars but a side that hasn't gelled and may take a year to find its feet. They are 13/2 outsiders for the title and rightly so.
Squad: Shoaib Malik (capt), Ahmed Shehzad, Darren Bravo, Abdullah Shafique, Saif Badar, Nicholas Pooran, Kumar Sangakkara, Sohaib Maqsood, Kashif Bhatti, Shan Masood, Thisara Perera, Mohammad Abbas , Umar Siddiq, Ross Whiteley, Imran Tahir, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Gul, Hardus Viljoen.
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2 units on Karachi Kings to win PSL 2018 @ 4/1
1 unit on Alex Hales to be leading PSL 2018 runscorer @ 20/1
1 unit on Ahmed Shehzad to be leading PSL 2018 runscorer @ 10/1
1 unit on Rashid Khan to be leading PSL 2018 wicket-taker @ 14/1
1 unit on Jofra Archer to be leading PSL 2018 wicket-taker @ 14/1
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