Johan Botha, the Islamabad United head coach, reckons his team's leader Shadab Khan is the "best captain" in the Pakistan Super League. Botha, speaking ahead of the league's resumption on Wednesday evening in which United played the Lahore Qalandars, said Khan's credibility had grown as a leader over the last couple of seasons.
Khan was named the United captain ahead of the 2020 season and has performed well enough as the youngest captain in the league. His batting has evolved with a move up the order, and before the resumption, he had the third-best strike rate among all PSL captains, of 149.75 only behind Shane Watson's 158.66 (from two games as captain) and Shahid Afridi's 158.18 (10 games as captain). He has averaged just under 26 in those 16 games as captain, winning eight and losing as many games.
The batting has become his form suit, Botha saying the allrounder had toned down his "over-aggression" to bring a sense of "calm" to his personality.
"His batting is coming along nicely," Botha said. "Early in the season, he was probably a little bit over-aggressive in the Karachi leg and I think he has figured out now how he wants to go about things. His game is in good order and for me he probably is the best captain in the tournament. That should set him down that he is a really good and calm captain. He does a lot of good things on the field and the boys respect him even as a young leader. That's all you can ask from a captain … he does lead from the front, makes good decisions under pressure and he keeps the rest of the boys calm."
What United could do with to maintain their position in third place before the resumption is a return to the bowling form that announced Khan's arrival into the game in 2016. He has taken 12 wickets as captain with an economy rate of 7.64 - both figures considerably down from his earlier seasons. He has, however, in that time also been elevated to the Pakistan vice-captaincy in white-ball formats although the 22-year-old has also had a rough time with injuries in recent times.
He was out with groin and hamstring problems most recently only to recover before the second leg of the PSL which resumed on Wednesday. Khan had missed the Zimbabwe tour last year after first complaining about a groin injury but recovered in time for the New Zealand tour. The problem, however, got worse during a tour game in Christchurch, but he was cleared to lead Pakistan in the T20Is after Babar Azam picked up a finger injury.
But to his dismay, Khan was later ruled out of the Test series. He carried on with this rehabilitation and returned to the field during the PSL in Karachi leg earlier this year but averaged 56.50 with the ball in four games, taking only two wickets while leaking 8.69 runs per over. With the bat, he scored 32 runs at a strike rate of 110.34.
"He's been working really hard, he's bowled a lot of overs actually, for T20 preparation this week," Botha said when asked if Khan was 100% fit. "I think he felt probably a little bit underdone coming to the UAE and having to spend a week in quarantine doesn't really help that situation. But we know that's for the tournament. And he's worked hard this week, he is working really well, he is bowling beautifully."
United were placed third when the tournament was postponed earlier this year, with three wins and one loss. The conditions, however, of Karachi in March and now in Abu Dhabi are vastly different in terms of the weather and pitch. The organisers have had to plan for the humidity and the sapping heat at this time of the year as the UAE has never hosted high-profile cricket in the summer.
"It's obviously different times," Botha said. "Everyone now is sort of getting used to that. You've got to do quarantines and that's part of the game and that's part of tournament. I think our boys handle it really well. The weather is a factor, but I think having spent a week out there already, training sessions, different training sessions at different times, we've we sort of adapted. There's no complaints. There's no more talking about the weather or how hot it is. Obviously there's going to be a lot of sweat and dew and stuff and the ball could get slippery. The batters will have to change the gloves a lot. But I think for us, we just need to be on top of making sure that our guys get sort of cooled down between this."