Despite absence of big stars, Islamabad bear confident look

Ronchi hit a title-clinching 26-ball 52 for Islamabad United in the PSL final in March this year AFP/Getty Images


Put simply, this is the most successful Pakistan Super League franchise in the short history of the tournament. Two titles in three seasons have cemented Islamabad's position atop the perch they comfortably occupy in the PSL, and it is them the other five teams will look to knock down over the next few weeks.

Interestingly, Islamabad made slow starts in the seasons they won the title. In the inaugural year, they won two out of their first six matches. Last season, they had one victory from the first three games. An epic Super Over win against Lahore Qalandars helped get Islamabad's season back on track and they went on a six-match winning spree, losing only once en route to the title.

Islamabad have relied on several typically T20 strategies, the key ones being flexibility in batting and bowling orders, and a relentless reliance on analytics to gain an edge. The numbers show two title wins in three years, and no metric will tell you that's a bad return.

Team overview

The key to Islamabad's success has been a strong base of local players, complimented by what have turned out to be judicious overseas player picks. In the last two years in particular, the franchise has almost become a mini-production line for international talent, with six players going on to make international debuts after first turning out for Islamabad, and Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Hussain Talat, Asif Ali and Rumman Raees have all seen their careers boosted by stellar performances for Islamabad.

Paradoxically for a team so reliant on statistics, Islamabad retained the services of Misbah-ul-Haq until well after it was clear he could no longer perform to the levels of an elite side. It might have been sentimentality, or just as probably, difficulty in offloading a player who commanded such an iconic status in Pakistan cricket. But for much of the past year, Islamabad had to find ways of playing around their captain, and were not hurt by Misbah's absence in several key games towards the latter stages of the competition, including the final.

This time around, Islamabad have, understandably enough, retained that core group of local players that brought them such success. And they have once more chosen the oldest player in the squad - Mohammad Sami - to lead them. JP Duminy's absence will be a big miss, but the addition of Ian Bell and Cameron Delport shores up a squad that had only a few holes in it to begin with.


While recent glories often tempt sides not to make too many changes, the additions Islamabad have made look like they could fill key roles in the side. Ian Bell and Philip Salt, at different ends of the age spectrum, both appeal. Bell may not be remembered as the quintessential T20 specialist, but in 2018 was the third-highest runscorer in the Vitality Blast, averaging a smidge under 50 with a strike rate just below 140. Salt, 22, has little experience but his Vitality Blast strike rate of 172 will have played a key role in his selection. A host of allrounders - Shadab, Faheem and Talat prime among them - ensure balance.


Even if you're Islamabad United, seeing Duminy, Andre Russell, Alex Hales and Sam Billings all depart may seem like a void virtually impossible to properly fill. Duminy grew in importance for the side to the extent he took over as captain by the end. It is in the batting department, therefore, that Islamabad look somewhat rocky. It hasn't helped that Asif Ali has experienced a dip in form lately, scoring 25, 2 and 13 in the T20I series against South Africa. In the Mzansi Super League that preceded it, he managed 150 runs at 16.6, 80 of which came in just one innings.

At the other end, Shadab, who could barely put a foot wrong until six months ago, experienced the first serious dip in form in his career since the start of the T20I tri-series in Zimbabwe in July. His economy rate has risen to 7.7 in these past seven months; it was below 6.19 before this period began. His average over these 14 games is 23.76, in his career up to then it was 15.33. Shadab is the unquestioned golden boy of the PSL, and with the vice captaincy now handed to him, has an ever-increasing burden to fulfill. He needs to come out of this rocky spell first.

Key foreign player

For the past five years, Luke Ronchi has batted in T20 cricket in a way that appears not to have occurred to anyone. There is no time to settle in; his strike rate over the first five balls was (as of April 2018) 161, the fastest in the world. His overall strike rate since 2014 stands around 150, and his batting average is close to 30.

Even by those standards, Islamabad United were fortunate enough to enjoy Luke Ronchi in a purple patch. Opening the innings for them, it turned out Ronchi in a Powerplay played like a 100m sprinter given a 10m headstart to the competition. What was that? If you attack too much too early, your elevated strike rate comes at the expense of your average? Well, Ronchi struck at 182, the highest strike rate for all batsmen with at least 160 runs in the PSL. He averaged 43.50, the outright highest batting average that season. And he outscored every other player with 435 runs. He didn't compromise, he was too busy cauterising.

Under-the-radar local player

Given this is the club where the "emerging player" category truly lives up to its name, particular attention must be paid to Islamabad United's young picks. Muhammad Musa, 18, may be listed as medium-fast for now, but that could soon change. Footage of the 18-year-old at the Under-19 World Cup bowling at speeds approaching 150kph caused excitement, as any young fast, Pakistan bowler will. He has played a handful of first-class games since then, with the numbers none too disappointing: 12 wickets at 24.66 in first-class cricket included the scalps of Salman Butt and Kamran Akmal on debut. Now, with the opportunity to test his skills against the world's best, Musa's star could be shining very brightly by the end of the tournament.

Squad: Mohammad Sami (capt), Shadab Khan, Asif Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Ian Bell, Amad Butt, Cameron Delport, Sahibzada Farhan, Hussain Talat, Luke Ronchi (wk), Samit Patel, Rumman Raees, Phil Salt (wk), Zafar Gohar, Wayne Parnell, Nasir Nawaz, Zahir Khan, Muhammad Musa, Waqas Maqsood, Rizwan Hussain
Management and coaching staff: Dean Jones (head coach) Waqar Younis (bowling coach) Saeed Ajmal (spin bowling coach) Dean Woodford (fitness trainer) Errol Alcott (physio) Hassan Cheema (strategy manager) Rehan ul Haq (general manager)