LAHORE, Feb 03 (APP):Multan Sultans made their HBL Pakistan Super League debut only in 2018, but their popularity in the league is at par with any other team.

Under a new owner, they are the most expensive HBL PSL franchise, according to a analysis made available to APP here on Sunday.
Their popularity in Pakistan, especially in Southern Punjab, is set to increase manifold as Shahid Afridi, the most eminent T20 player of the country, is among the new faces to join Sultans this season. The 39-year-old veteran is in vintage form, and last month became the first Pakistani to achieve a double of 4,000 runs and 300 wickets in T20 cricket.
Afridi’s destructive nature with the bat is well known and he will be joined by another swashbuckling all-rounder Andre Russell, who comes in the team as a replacement for the injured Steve Smith. Both Afridi and Russell have a batting strike-rate in excess of 150.00 and together hit 500 plus sixes in T20s.
Russell has won two T20 World Cups with the Windies in 2012 and 2016 and was also part of the Islamabad United side that won the HBL PSL in 2016 and 2018.
The highly experienced T20 player and captain Shoaib Malik will continue to lead the side after having performed the same duties in the previous tournament. Malik is the only Pakistani who has accumulated 8,000 plus runs in 20-over cricket.
Shoaib Malik said: “HBL PSL is my favorite time of the year. It is a fervour that spreads across the country and everyone is involved. I spent most of my childhood in Karachi and it is like home for me, so my target is to play the final in that beautiful city on 17 March.
“The tournament is a fantastic platform and I am so proud to be associated with it. I am more emotional about it probably because I vividly remember the days when PSL did not exist and there was no platform that could grab peoples’ attention. I am very excited and looking forward to a bigger and better HBL PSL.”
The left-arm pace duo of Mohammad Irfan and Junaid Khan will lead the bowling attack for the Sultans. Irfan is known for his miserly bowling and bowled 23 dot balls in a world record bowling spell in Barbados last year, whereas Junaid, one of the three bowlers to claim a hat-trick in the HBL PSL, is famous for his bowling in the death overs.
The Sultans made their presence felt in the first appearance when at the halfway stage, they were at the top of the points table after winning four of the five completed matches. They had looked strong contenders to lift the trophy, but their form nosedived in the second half of the tournament as they finished outside the top four to miss out on the play-offs.
With the world’s best all-rounders, a potent power-hitting unit and two world-class left-arm fast bowlers in their ranks, the Sultans will be hoping to showcase better results this time.
Their challenge starts on the second day of the tournament when they take on Karachi Kings in Dubai on 15 February.

Squad (in pick order):
Overseas: Andre Russell (West Indies), James Vince (England), Qais Ahmad (Afghanistan), Nicholas Pooran (West Indies), Lauri Evans (England), Daniel Christian (Australia), Tom Moores (England).

Local: Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan, Shan Masood, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Irfan Khan, Umar Siddiq, Nauman Ali, Mohammad Junaid, Mohammad Ilyas, Ali Shafiq, Shakeel Ansar, Hammad Azam

Schedule of matches:

15 February – v Karachi Kings (d), Dubai

16 February – v Islamabad United (d), Dubai

20 February – v Quetta Gladiators (n), Sharjah

22 February – v Lahore Qalandars (d), Sharjah

24 February – v Peshawar Zalmi, (d), Sharjah

26 February – v Islamabad United (n), Dubai

28 February – v Peshawar Zalmi (d), Dubai

1 March – v Quetta Gladiators (n), Dubai

4 March – v Karachi Kings (n), Abu Dhabi

10 March – v Lahore Qalandars (n), Lahore.