Feels like only yesterday we had the first ever edition of the national T20 cup; an alien format tailor made for the upcoming generation of Pakistan, eagerly looking to get on with the game, tumbling the boundary ropes on every ball, minimum effort for maximum result, changing the once ‘catch it somehow’ bowlers to the ‘God please don’t let this be another six’ bowlers we see today; turning the game into a couple of hours of pure entertainment – or dishonor depending on which side you end up on.
This transition would start taking place in 2004, back when the Red Sox won their first world series in 86 years going about a revolutionary approach to sports; a numbers game, an approach which would soon be welcomed by sides in all competitions leading to a revolution in world sports.
It was the wicket keeper of the glorious ’92 world cup win, leading a favorite Karachi Dolphins side into the final of his first and only T20 tournament. Leading the side from the front, aggregating 221 runs in 5 matches, he could only look on as the Naveed Latif lead Faisalabad Wolves took the championship with 3 to get in the last over.
Perhaps it was another illusion of this intricate format but no doubt T20 rapidly bullied its way into cricket with success far greater than anyone had expected. With leagues popping up all over the world, cricket soon became a proficiently programmed High Definition EA sports game.
12 years into T20, dial up phones replaced by all features in one cell phones, Moin Khan found himself into the final of another first in the country, an international quality T20 league, as the coach of Quetta Gladiators went up against the highly experienced Islamabad United side which had just found it’s rhythm in the knockout matches. They had beaten them twice in the group stages, and by a fair amount, both sides were most unlikely to make the payoffs let alone the final. One on the highest scores in the tournament for United to chase, the veterans made it look as easy as they lost the first two games and fittingly, captain Misbah taking the winning run, his only of the game.
With the sultan of swing being the mentor and man who revolutionized limited overs cricket, Professor Deano, as the head coach, Islamabad united promised to be a side catapulting youngsters into the level of maturity the PSL was theorized to make. The philosophy of Islamabad united has been to surround promising youngsters in a cult of experience. Although the average age of the squad being the highest has invited talks from critics, it hardly shows the real story that having the calmness and experience contrast the passion and enthusiasm of youngsters has been like pairing the atoms with biggest difference in charge to make the strongest bonds.
It was said that the PSL would start having an effect on international cricket after 3-4 editions even with all sides being forced to play an emerging player in the XI but the recent champions trophy triumph has a different story to tell. Particularly, Islamabad United has had a special role to play in grooming youngsters. It has been the only side to play 3 emerging players in the XI and play all of its four emerging players in the side and apart from that, it has played a key role in very strong comebacks of young players in the national side.
The coaching staff know better than most about the importance of knowing your weakness and utilizing your strength. One prime example of that was the return of Sharjeel Khan into the international side. He had made a decent debut against Sri Lanka with a run a ball 61 in 2013 but since then had slumped quite low. Even the start to his PSL campaign wasn’t the best but as the tournament progressed, he gained momentum and in the 3rd playoff, he smashed a brilliant century to knock over the favorites Peshawar Zalmi. This was only the start as he smashed a mammoth 86 ball 152 against Ireland on his return and since then has averaged 44 in 14 innings with 5 fifties and a century at a strike rate of 130.
“When you play under the guidance of such great personalities, it does wonders for your confidence. With their help, I have become more game aware and have learnt to adjust my game to varying match conditions” Rumman Raees was quoted saying, the first emerging player to play for United. He said that he had learned loads from the coach and mentor on how to sharpen his skills both mentally and physically. “You cannot have a better teacher than Wasim Akram”, he said, “Wasim Bhai got angry with me during PSL for eating rice and since then I haven’t touched rice again!” “I was 91kgs then, now I am 81 Kgs”.
You cannot talk about the youngsters of Islamabad United without mentioning the leg spin sensation of Pakistan, the 18 year old hailing from the hometown of captain, Misbah, who had taken a particular liking to the youngster. The director said that in just one session they realized that he’s got something and although he remained wicket-less in his first three games of the 2017 PSL, the coaching staff stuck with him as the 2nd emerging player in the side while working on him and in the next five matches, he picked 9 wickets at a staggering average of 13.11. He would go on to wreak havoc in the Caribbean isles taking 10 wickets in the T20 series at an unreal average of 7.5.
Hussain Talat and Amad Butt are the other two of the other finds by the ISLU committee who’ve proved that they belong at the top. You learn a lot even as a 12th man, Amad had said in an interview, although he didn’t get a game in the winning season of the PSL, watching the top players of the world was a very educational experience in itself. The Sialkot lad said that learning from the Sultan of swing was phenomenal and it had done wonders to his game, he had quite a handful of pointers directly or indirectly related to the game. The young all-rounder had an economy of 11.22 in his first 3 games of T20 cricket which has come down to under 10 in the games since joining the united side and in the Pakistan one-day cup of 2016, he took 9 wickets at an average of 21 going for just 4.3 runs to the over.
Hussain Talat is rated highly by everyone at the franchise and people have been really impressed by his ability to make quick scoring runs look easy, said one of the managers in Islamabad United. At 21 years of age, averaging 28.6 at a strike rate of about 115, a talent such as this at such a young age is just what United need to shape him into good form for the future of Pakistan. He’s had two games for Islamabad United and has made a quick-fire match winning fifty in one of them.
The PSL has been a stage of great experience and exposure for young players. With the management continuing to find young impressive players as it is, we can expect Darwin’s law to for once hold for the domestic structure of Pakistan as evolution in the ranks becomes the survival of the best as Islamabad United strives to bring the best out of the raw talent of Pakistan.