Karachi Kings could only win a solitary game in the last edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) and the champions of the 2020 season are eager to bring out their A-game when the PSL 8 kicks off in Multan on Monday.
Johan Botha will take up their head coach duties after serving in the same role for Multan Sultans (2019) and Islamabad United (2021). He was the assistant coach at Karachi Kings in PSL 5, the edition when they lifted the title.
He spoke to PCB Digital about how Karachi Kings can turn around their fortunes, how they will replace Babar Azam, the most successful batter in the tournament, and what makes the PSL one of the best leagues in the world.
Q: This is your third PSL franchise as a head coach. How has your experience been so far in the tournament?
Botha: I have had some great experiences in the past and I think it is a great tournament. It is probably one of the best two or three tournaments in the world and obviously great to work in it.
I love coming here. It gave me my first break as a coach when I was still playing. Dean Jones asked me to come and join him at Islamabad United. It is just a good tournament for me to be involved in.
Q: What makes the PSL one of the top leagues in the world?
Botha: It is the quality of cricket. There are high scores and most nights the wickets are really good, but I think it’s the bowling quality of all teams. Every team has outstanding bowling and that is why a lot of teams go to the draft to pick international batters.
It is a good match-up as it is top international batters versus top local bowlers and not to throw at the local batters, you know, there are obviously some world-class players in there.
Every night is high-quality cricket … it is a great tournament, high quality, and many international players that I have spoken to want to be involved in it.
Q: This is a good tournament for international batters to come and enhance their batting skills against fast bowling.
Botha: Yeah, I would agree.
I think Alex Hales would say the same thing. Paul Stirling is another one. Usman Khawaja was with us in Islamabad for a tournament and he agreed. He obviously is a very good player of pace bowling growing up in Australia.
All of these guys have said you’ve got to be playing well every night because every night a different pace bowler comes at you and every team’s got a quality pace attack.
Every team probably has one or two spinners that sort of complement those quicks. A lot has been said about the bowling, but the wickets are good and you have to bowl well otherwise you do go for plenty of runs.
Q: What are the areas Karachi Kings needs to work on and what are your expectations from the team?
For starters, we need to get back to the playoffs and give ourselves a chance to play those final games, because the last two years, Karachi has not even been close to that. The last time I was with Karachi, in the PSL 5, we actually won that tournament. I was there with Dean Jones and he was the head coach.
We need to establish ourselves as one of the better teams in the tournament. That obviously is going to take some work from being last probably the last couple of years, only having won one game, during PSL 7.
That is a long way to go to turn that around. So that is certainly the aim is for us to be a contending team.
Obviously, teams have gone past us in the last two years and we have some serious work to do, but we also have a good squad. We have a really experienced squad. We have probably gone for the most experience in this game that I’ve seen, and we’ve got to bank on that. We have to hope that those guys perform for us on the big stage and can get this team back to winning ways.
From last year, which is obviously the freshest one in memory, they won one game and that was the ninth game.
So, we’ve got to try and start well in Karachi. That is obviously a bit of an advantage, I would say, to play at home. First up, you want to start well at home. I suppose the crowds will be full again as the Covid pandemic is over. We have to make the most of starting at home, starting well, and get some early momentum. That is what you want to do in a tournament like this. You need to get momentum early.
I hope that with the international players we’ve picked, plus having retained eight local players, we have got a strong enough squad to start well, then keep that momentum and get us into the playoffs. And that will put us two or three games away from winning a tournament.
It sounds simple saying it like that, but this team has some work to do. We have been poor the last two years and we have to pull things together and turn it around. We have to do it now.
Q: You mentioned about the presence of experienced cricketers, like Shoaib Malik, but Babar Azam is not going to be around this time. How much is that going to impact as he is one of the best cricketers in the world right now?
Botha: Yeah, he’s one of the best cricketers in the world. I think Sharjeel [Khan] is still obviously at the top, which he has done very well over the last few years.
We have filled Babar’s spot with James Vince, who has played really well for Multan. But, that is [Babar Azam moving to Peshawar Zalmi] obviously a big loss. He is a big player, he is a big character in the tournament and he draws big crowds into the stadium. We have tried to replace him with James Vince. Hopefully, we can substitute that – Vince has done really well when he’s played in the PSL.
I think our biggest player and the player we probably need to get the most out of is [Haider] Ali. When he was with [Peshawar] Zalmi in the first couple of years, he was excellent. I thought this guy could be one of the best T20 players in the world.
So hopefully, we can get the best out of Haider Ali and if he has a really good tournament, we’ll be good as a team. He is dangerous as a player and can take the game away from the opposition. The management is looking to get the best out of him.
Then Shoaib [Malik] can follow that. Qasim Akram is a great emerging player. We also have Matthew Wade and a bunch of international all-rounders in James Fuller, Ben Cutting, and Andrew Tye.
Hopefully, we can fire at the top with the bat. In a tournament like this, your top six have to fire, get the runs, and get it quick enough or you are always going to struggle.
Obviously, last year there was something missing. I think we have covered it a way it’s a lot to replace an excellent player. But we have done pretty well to cover that.