With Johan Botha unable to return for PSL7, United have turned to a former charge to lead the 2022 campaign. Mahmood has put together a decent coaching CV since retiring from playing, working with England and Pakistan men, Karachi Kings and Multan Sultans but this latest position comes with a fresh dose of pressure.
But he knows what it takes to succeed with Islamabad, having been part of the side than prevailed in 2016 and it appears, at least initially, that his coaching philosophy - focusing on young players and data - correlates with the current setup.
Captain: Shadab Khan
Into his second campaign as the permanent skipper and with more than 250 professional matches under his belt, it's easy to forget Shadab hasn't yet turned 24.
As well as identifying why Islamabad couldn't take their group form into the playoffs, Shadab will be keen to arrest his own dramatic downturn in form, following a rather substandard 2021 with the bat. Having warmed up for the PSL in the Big Bash with Sydney Sixers, he'll welcome a return to familiar climes. Thirty-eight wickets with an economy rate of 6.67 in Asia tells you everything about the success of his leggies on home turf.
Alex Hales gets Islamabad United off to fast starts (Asif Hassan/AFP via Getty Images)
Alex Hales: Another profitable year in 2021 for Hales cemented his status as one of the world's outstanding opening batters. Only six players hit more than the 1,297 runs he managed across four competitions. Last year's PSL was relatively lean in comparison and only lasted four games after he failed to return for the UAE leg. As he remains ostracised by his country, there is something fascinating about the status he holds in Pakistan as he gears up for a fifth campaign.
Could become the highest-scoring Englishman in the competition, with only Ravi Bopara and James Vince ahead of him.
Paul Stirling: Described as "world-class" by captain Andrew Balbirnie last year, few would question the way Stirling has gone from a reliable performer for Ireland to a regular on the global franchise circuit. Was picked up as a replacement played in 2021 by Islamabad and repaid that faith with a blistering 56 from 33 balls against Gladiators.
He returns for what should be a full campaign, though only after having suffered from Covid-19 prior to the West Indies ODIs. In December, he became the highest-scoring player in the Abu Dhabi T10 and finished the fourth edition of the tournament with a strike-rate of 219.58. Asia has often been a happy hunting ground regardless of the format, with Stirling averaging a touch below 40 for Ireland.
Marchant de Lange: An intriguing pick in the draft from a platinum category that included Tymal Mills and David Willey. The South African - while his fully contracted fellow countrymen reflect on not being given permission to play the PSL - is an intimidating quick at 6ft 7ins but he lacks experience at this level.
Indeed, before playing three matches at the Lanka Premier League, he went more than five years between T20 appearances outside of his homeland or England. Caught the eye during a truncated campaign in the men's Hundred, collecting a dozen wickets at 13.08 with best figures of 5 for 20. Providing that extra bounce will be central to United's thinking, but his career economy rate (8.64) means caution is required.
Colin Munro: The 34-year-old has been a different animal with Islamabad after a brief spell with Karachi Kings. He averages 44.41 with the two-time winners and has five fifties in 15 innings. One of the few to benefit from last season's postponement, having been unable to make the original window before returning for the second leg.
Content with what is likely to be the end of his New Zealand career, Munro was only outscored by Mohammad Rizwan, Babar Azam and Glenn Phillips in T20s in 2021. Arrives off the back of a fruitful Big Bash with Perth Scorchers but will likely miss the opening game due to quarantine requirements.
Rahmanullah Gurbaz: A shrewd look towards the future by United in a move that in years to come could look very clever indeed. The 20-year-old only played once for Karachi Kings last term but can be assured or more opportunities this time around. At the start of 2021 he served noticed of his talent with a century on ODI debut for Afghanistan and went on to be part of their T20 World Cup campaign.
He was named batter of the tournament at the T10 League after cracking 30 sixes and achieving a strike-rate of 214.37. Gurbaz backed up that display at the Lanka Premier League with another 207 runs and reeled off scores of 59, 70 and 35 to help guide Jaffna Kings to the title.
Reece Topley: It remains to be seen how much Islamabad United see of the left-arm seamer, with the start of the competition clashing with the West Indies T20s, but he was a good pick-up in the player draft.
As the only left-arm quick in the squad he will be a virtual shoo-in once he becomes available. Though familiar injury troubles returned last summer, the last few years have represented a fine return from multiple stress fractures and a bout of back surgery. He's taken 32 wickets in his last two Blast campaigns to re-enter the England conversation and earn him a BBL contract this winter, where he took played for Melbourne Renegades.
Liam Dawson: The England international joins Islamabad United on February 10 as a partial replacement for Paul Stirling. He's not a like-for-like swap for the Ireland international, who bats at the top of the order, but does offer United additional wicket-taking option with his left-arm spin.
The Hampshire allrounder has previously represented Peshawar Zalmi in the competition, scoring 363 middle-order runs at a strike rate of 125.60 and taking 11 wickets in 24 appearances.
Hasan Ali is chasing the top spot in the all-time PSL wicket-takers' chart (Asif Hassan/AFP via Getty Images)
Changes from 2021
The biggest change has come in the head coach hotseat, with Johan Botha's commitments in Australia seeing him replace by Mahmood. Regarding the playing roster, the close season saw Iftakhar Ahmed allowed to join Quetta Gladiators while Hussain Talat was not retained. The draft saw a focus on improving the bowling attack, with Marchant de Lange, Reece Topley and Zafar Gohar all picked up. Colin Munro returns after not being among those players initially retained, and there were moves for Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Danish Aziz.
How did they do in 2021?
United were the outstanding candidates to capture a third title after the regular season having finished six points clear at the top of the table. They won their last five group games but failed to take that form into playoffs. They missed two opportunities to reach the final, losing to eventual champions Multan Sultans and Peshawar Zalmi.
Best finish: Winners (2016, 2018)
The Islamabad line-up is littered with formidable ball strikers. Hales (171.60 strike-rate), Munro (169.64) and Stirling (162.85) combined for 65 fours and 17 sixes during the 2021 across just 15 appearances.
Also, Asif Ali backed up his displays last season (167.16) at the T20 World Cup. And there are quick runs to be found down the order too in of the form of Hasan Ali and Mohammad Wasim.
That battery of batters helped United put on the highest PSL score of 257 for 2 against Peshawar Zalmi last season, which include Ali smashing a 14-ball 43. Indeed, three of their biggest scores in their history came last season. Gurbaz, with 10 fifties in 60 innings and a strike-rate of 150.35, is the most notable addition to their artillery.
With Hussain Talat and Iftikhar Ahmed having both departed in the off-season, Azam Khan could fill the void having arrived from Quetta Gladiators. In 20 matches for the Gladiators, the 23-year-old son of Moin Khan scored at 129.23.
There are concerns over his fitness, with captain Shadab Khan having made a direct appeal for him to make a significant improvement. "Azam has proved his mettle, he has performed well, and I am sure he’ll do even better this time with us. We will work on his fitness too," he said.
Anyone who watched Asif Ali dismantle Afghanistan in the World Cup needs no further convince that he can effectively put the cherry on top of any chase. He smashed four sixes in an over off Karim Janat in Dubai to claim the most remarkable victory.
There were plenty of examples last term too of Asif's ability to plunder runs down the order. He struck a 43-ball 75 against Lahore Qalandars, led United to victory with an unbeaten 21 against Karachi Kings added 16 not out to help overcome Quetta Gladiators.
No Usman Khawaja means the loss of a left-hander from the top-order, with Munro the only genuine option. That could certainly help opponents' bowling plans. Meanwhile, Stirling's form either side of contracting Covid-19 could be better. Despite cruising through the group stage, when the pressure was cranked up Islamabad folded, making just 149 in the Qualifier with Sultans. And they were well below par when given a second chance to reach the final, losing by eight wickets to Zalmi
Irish opener Paul Stirling (Asif Hassan/AFP via Getty Images)
"I want to become the top wicket-taker of the tournament." Hasan Ali is within touching distance of becoming the PSL's all-time wicket-taker, sitting only 22 behind Wahab Riaz - thought he may have to wait until next term to surpass that watermark.
Ali leads a varied and stellar pace attack. Marchant de Lange will provide intimidation, Reece Topley left-arm skill, good pace will be offered by Mohammad Wasim and Faheem Ashraf's handy knack of picking up key wickets is another key ingredient. Crucially, this is a team who share the responsibility. Ali and Wasim were the only bowlers to reach double figures last season, but Ashraf added nine each.
Shadab Khan served notice of his intent ahead of PSL 7 by posting on Twitter that he'd been working specifically on fresh variations ahead of the new campaign. The leg-break bowler is not a vicious spinner of the ball, preferring to rest on changes in pace and length to extract wickets. That said, he does possess a deceptive wrong'un, which can strike fear into batters. Zafar Gohar is essentially the front-line option and has 18 wickets in 16 PSL matches.
A sharp turner of the ball, the 26-year-old provides a coveted left-arm mode of attack, though much of his experience has come on the domestic scene. He did play four games at Gloucestershire in the County Championship following a Test debut against New Zealand and comes into the tournament with some decent form in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Zahir Khan, a partial overseas replacement, has put together a decent CV across franchise and domestic competitions and offers reliable wrist-spin.
Danish Aziz hasn't bowled much in the PSL but adds to battery of spinners.
United will be keen to improve their tally of wickets in the powerplay. Only Guetta Gladiators took fewer in the first six overs during the 2021 campaign. While their rivals can call upon Rashid Khan, Imran Tahir or even Shahid Afridi, Islamabad lack that world-class spinner, even if pace-off isn't always the direct route to success in this competition.
Iftikhar Ahmad was named the best fielder of PSL 6 after his nine catches last term. Despite his departure, Islamabad are in safe hands in the form of Shadab, who produced an outstanding moment of commitment and skill to run-out Mohammad Nawaz last term. After parrying what would have been an outstanding catch, he collected up the loose ball and threw down the stumps with aplomb. Elsewhere, Asif Ali has the most catches is Islamabad's PSL history, with 22 in 55 games.
Who takes the gloves?
Muhammad Akhlaq finished last term behind the stumps after taking over from Phil Salt during the second half of the tournament. He picked up five dismissals, all catches, in as many games. Azam Khan who played second fiddle to Sarfraz Ahmed at Quetta Gladiators, sits in reserve. Gurbaz is perhaps the most reliable option and is certainly the best of the three with the bat but fitting him in the XI might be the challenge.
Squad: Asif Ali, Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Alex Hales, Mohammad Wasim Jr, Azam Khan, Paul Stirling, Colin Munro, Marchant de Lange, Muhammad Akhlaq, Reece Topley, Danish Aziz, Zafar Gohar, Mubasir Khan, M. Zeeshan, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Ather Mehmood
Supplementary draft: Musa Khan, Zahir Khan
Partial replacement: Mohammad Huraira, Liam Dawson
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