Ahead of the PSL 2020, we look at each team's strength, weaknesses, squads and support staff details.
Is the general optimistic goodwill the Multan Sultans appear to generate justified by their performances thus far? After all, the Sultans have been as unsuccessful as the Lahore Qalandars in breaching the top four in the short while they've been around, finishing below the playoff cut-off line each time around. And not finishing last simply because the Qalandars exist to prop everyone up is hardly a vindication of anything. Their inaugural season saw the Sultans start brightly before fading away towards the end, while under new owners, they were more disappointing in 2019, winning just three of their ten matches.
And yet, the Sultans carry with them a particular buzz that hasn't shrunk to irrelevance. The current owner Ali Khan Tareen has this year thrown his lot behind hard analytics, inspired by the success Islamabad United have enjoyed using a similar strategy. Andy Flower has been roped in as head coach, and perhaps even more significantly, the services of Nathan Leamon were acquired as Director of Strategy. Most of the hype around the side doesn't emanate from the personnel they'll have out on the field but the metrics that selected them. And if that was the way the Sultans wished to go, they couldn't have asked for better people than the ones they brought in ahead of the draft. The homework has been done brilliantly, and as such, there is no reason not to feel confident ahead of the big examination.
Despite a scare a few weeks ago, it appears the Sultans will have Moeen Ali available for the entirety of the season, and one only needs to look at the recent series in South Africa to understand what a gem he could be for the Sultans. The acquisition of Rilee Rossouw, who is by now a PSL royalty with Shane Watson and Luke Ronchi being the only foreign players to have scored more runs, from the Quetta Gladiators is another shrewd bit of business, as was picking Imran Tahir late in the draft.
Expect much of their success, however, to be built around local talent. Their 18-year-old vice-captain Rohail Nazir is perhaps the hottest young prospect in Pakistan; it's only a matter of time before he takes his bow in international cricket, while Mohammad Ilyas' pace made him one to watch out for last year. The consensus is he has only improved since then, while the inclusions of seasoned T20 quicks Sohail Tanvir, Mohammad Irfan and Junaid Khan should make the Sultans a formidable bowling unit. Add to it the local spin option of Usman Qadir, who counts fellow Sultans legspinner Tahir as one of his mentors. Should that combination bear fruits, it bodes well not just for the Sultans, but for Qadir's career in general as well.
More than arguably any other franchise, the Sultans are backing local talent to come good. That might have been part of the noble spirit behind the formation of the PSL, but it isn't a sure-shot pathway to PSL success. Zeeshan Ashraf, whom owner Tareen backs to the hilt, is 27, and while he has the reputation of a big hitter, his T20 numbers (a batting average of 19.38 with a strike rate of 117) aren't breathtaking. The jury's also out on whether the responsibilities that Ilyas, Ali Shafiq and Khushdil Shah will have to shoulder don't come too soon for them, and for a team so heavily reliant on the data, you wonder about their choice of captain in Shan Masood, who, while a magnificent exponent of red-ball cricket, hasn't quite amassed the record that would suggest he can replicate that form at T20 level.
Fabian Allen was a brilliant pick, and the extent to which he remains unavailable may prove the key to the Sultans' chances this year, with 36-year-old Wayne Madsen not quite cut from the same cloth. At some point, an ageing squad might yet become a concern for the Sultans, who, besides Madsen, also have in their ranks two 40-year-olds (Shahid Afridi and Tahir), a 37-year-old (Irfan) and a 35-year-old (Tanvir).
Squad: Shan Masood (capt), Rilee Rossouw, James Vince, Zeeshan Ashraf, Khshdil Shah, Wayne Madsen, Shahid Afridi, Moeen Ali, Ravi Bopara, Sohail Tanvir, Bilawal Bhatti, Rohail Nazir (wk), Fabian Allen, Mohammad Ilyas, Ali Shafiq, Mohammad Irfan, Junaid Khan, Imran Tahir, Usman Qadir
Management staff: Ali Khan Tareen (owner), Andy Flower (head coach), Azhar Mehmood (fast bowling coach) Mushtaq Ahmed (spin bowling coach) Abdul Rehman (assistant coach) Nathan Leamon (Director of Strategy), Richard Halsall (fielding coach), Andrew Leipus (physiotherapist)
A team with heavyweights on their roster but seemingly facing a perennial struggle on the field - they have sat at the bottom of the table in all four seasons so far. So far in the PSL, they have played 39 matches and won only 13, never coming close to fulfilling the expectations fans have had of them. They have had some bad luck over the seasons, losing out on key players, but they have also not been able to get their act together as a team. The position of Aaqib Javed as the long-standing head coach has always been a point of debate among fans, but his bond with the franchise has only got stronger.
This season, they'll start with renewed hopes yet again, but they have toned those down from previous seasons. They didn't go for big purchases and will mainly build around the core of the players they had identified through their nationwide player development programme.
They have had big names aplenty, but these players have not always been available to them. In the first season, they had Chris Gayle, but he reached Dubai with an injury. He could play only five games, averaged just 20.60, and was offloaded the next season. That same season, the Qalandars also lost the in-form Mustafizur Rahman to injury. Then, before the second season began, they lost Shaun Tait, Dwayne Bravo and Anton Devcich to injuries.
Their hottest pick, Chris Lynn, dislocated his shoulder in Australia's Big Bash League only days before the start of the third season. However, he is now finally back in the squad, fully fit and firing.
Qalandars had also bought in Brendon McCullum, who went two seasons without a fifty, scoring his runs at an underwhelming strike rate of 114. Later, AB de Villiers was also unable to change their fortunes. Finally, last year, Mohammad Hafeez - their platinum pick and captain - got injured in his very first game to miss the entire season.
The firepower at the top in this season will be provided by Lynn and Fakhar Zaman, while Hafeez will be eyeing a revival of his career and a possible T20 World Cup spot via a good PSL. Their captain Sohail Akhtar is among the more inexperienced skippers, but he has been a solid player for Qalandars. Across two PSL seasons and a winning stint with Qalandars in the Abu Dhabi T20 Cup, he has scored 556 runs, including a hundred, at a strike rate of 132.38.
They have two highly regarded pace bowlers in Haris Rauf and Shaheen Afridi, with both having shown their ability to deliver when it counts. Both are also in-form and should be fired up after their recent performances. The bowling attack has variety, with Samit Patel's left-arm spin, the offspin of Hafeez and Seekkuge Prasanna's legspin. There is plenty of experience in that spin attack, with 688 T20 games combined.
With the bat, a top order of Zaman, Lynn, Hafeez and Akhtar can be explosive and full of runs, with each man a game-changer.
As is the case every season, it's about all the pieces coming together. There will be the shadow of past performances hanging over the Qalandars' heads. The team hasn't had a settled captain over the years, mostly relying on overseas players to lead, which meant a cohesive bond between the local and overseas cricketers couldn't be established. This year, they have turned to Akhtar, but he doesn't have much experience captaining in high-pressure games. While the top order looks secure, there is a lack of fire-power at the death.
Squad: Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, Chris Lynn, Shaheen Afridi, David Wiese, Usman Shinwari, Haris Rauf, Sohail Akhtar (capt), Samit Patel, Salman Butt, Seekkuge Prasanna, Ben Dunk, Farzan Raja, Jaahid Ali, M Faizan, Dane Vilas, Dilbar Hussain
Management staff: The Rana brothers (owners), Sameen Rana (manager), Aqib Javed (head coach), Mansoor Rana (batting coach), Waqas Ahmed (bowling coach), Muhammad Shahzad Butt (fielding coach), Nabeel Edgar Pace (analyst), Moeen (trainer), Derek Dedgman (Masseur), Simon (Masseur), Brett David Harrop (physiotherapist)