Why aren't Pakistani players hitting more sixes?
Since its birth 14 years ago, T20 cricket, the area of the sport that continues to witness the greatest evolution and invention, has centred on one currency that has remained more valuable than almost any other - the ability to hit sixes.
You only have to witness Carlos Brathwaite's X-rated final-over onslaught against Ben Stokes in last year's World T20 final or Kieron Pollard's dramatic back-to-back sixes the week before last, snatching victory from Lahore in the final two balls, to see how the art of clearing the rope, again and again, is an almost priceless skill.
However, in this year's PSL, a noticeable trend can be seen when looking at the sixes hit in the tournament - principally that, in comparison to the overseas players in the competition, Pakistani players have not been nearly as successful in their efforts at clearing the ropes.
Out of the 251 sixes hit in the 24 matches in this year's PSL, only 122 were hit by local batsmen, which works out to 48.6%. While this seems very close to a 50-50 split between overseas and local players, it is worth remembering that teams can only field a maximum of four foreign players per game, not all of them necessarily batsmen.
Just four batsmen, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal, Ahmed Shehzad and Misbah-ul-Haq - only 8.9% of all the local batsmen to face at least one ball in this year's PSL - account for nearly 41% of all the sixes hit by Pakistani batsmen; the other 41 local players combined to hit just 72 sixes, compared to the 50 that quartet managed.
The odds are, of course, tipped a little in favour of the overseas players in that they have been specifically selected from a longer list of players because their T20 skills have been proved - which in the case of batmen and allrounders usually suggests a propensity for hitting sixes - and although this undoubtedly has some influence, it is not enough to explain away the big discrepancy in the figures.
So what is behind the struggles with power-hitting that, a few notable exceptions aside, have been a feature of the local players' batting in this year's tournament? Peshawar Zalmi's team manager, Abdul Rehman, a highly regarded Pakistani coach in his own right, thinks it all comes down to professionalism. "I think they [overseas players] are more professional," he says. "They are more professional, and while our local players are very good, they are not at the same level yet.
"It's a difficult question to completely answer, though, but they are learning and the foreign players are sharing their knowledge. But you are right, the local players are not performing as well."
It is certainly a convincing argument, and undeniably true, that young, talented batsmen in countries like England and Australia will have far greater resources and more professional set-ups at their disposal as they develop.
Perhaps one of the greatest things about the PSL is that, as Rehman says, overseas players are now sharing what they have learnt in their careers with their local team-mates. The day before the final, Lahore Qalandars' 18-year-old player Saif Badar posted a video on Twitter of him practising using a batting drill he had picked up from Jason Roy.
The tournament so far has been known more for uncovering new bowling talent than the batting variety. Mohammad Akram, head coach of Peshawar Zalmi, is hopeful that things will improve in that regard as the PSL goes along. "You can say that overall if you look at this competition, our local batters did struggle, and most teams were relying on overseas batters rather than overseas bowling," says Akram. "Although we do have very good bowling attacks, it is something to think about, I believe, and I'm sure the selectors sitting at home must be watching that closely.
"I think it takes time. Other countries, they play a lot of T20 cricket, more competitive cricket, in front of more crowds, whereas in Pakistan we're struggling to get that to inspire kids, so this is the sort of tournament which we really needed. I think this will make a difference, so they will start hitting more sixes very soon."
|Kamran Akmal||Peshawar Zalmi||11||273||16|
|Shahid Afridi||Peshawar Zalmi||8||102||15|
|Kevin Pietersen||Quetta Gladiators||8||159||14|
|Chris Gayle||Karachi Kings||9||139||14|
|Sunil Narine||Lahore Qalandars||7||64||11|
|Kieron Pollard||Karachi Kings||9||117||11|
|Ahmed Shehzad||Quetta Gladiators||9||183||10|
|Dwayne Smith||Islamabad United||9||242||10|
|Shane Watson||Islamabad United||9||123||10|
Islamabad United head coach Dean Jones - whose side has produced arguably the breakout star of this year's competition, Shadab Khan, as well as showcasing a promising-looking cameo from Hussain Talat - thinks that technique is at the heart of the problem. "If you're looking at [Shane] Watson and Pollard and these guys, they get into a position of power, [stepping back] and leaning into it," he says. "It's also a little bit of weight-training as well, I'd say, for that power.
"Also, I think it's how they use the bat. Now what I mean by that is, how high do they grip the handle? All the power-hitters grip it quite high on the blade, so therefore they're using the actual handle itself to get that whip, to get that lag, to get through the ball and to get that extra five to ten metres.
"Now a lot of the local players probably grip it a little bit too low, I've even been speaking to Shadab [Khan] a little bit about it actually - you just look how high he [pointing at Chris Gayle] holds the bat."
To the understandable anguish, presumably, of fans and selectors alike, last year's great power-hitting hope, Sharjeel Khan, who hit 19 sixes in the inaugural PSL, including eight in the sparkling 117 that took Islamabad to the final, now finds himself at the centre of a spot-fixing scandal, with the threat of a life ban hanging over him.
However, elsewhere this year's competition has shown indications that before too long younger local players may well start to reverse the trend. Shehzad, after all, is still only 25; Fakhar Zaman announced himself to a wider audience in some style; and Shadab, still only 18, impressed his coach Jones enough for him to suggest the young man was ready for international cricket right now.
For Pakistani cricketers in the league, the PSL provides exposure to better resources and coaching; priceless experience and knowledge from overseas team-mates, many of them seasoned internationals; and the platform of a highly competitive and globally watched tournament in which to be tested. It would be a great surprise if the coming years do not see an improvement in power-hitting by local players - the currency of sixes spread a little more evenly across the playing field.
Charles Reynolds is a freelance cricket writer for the Independent