[written by: Aamir Husainy, Hamid Malik, Hassan Chaudhary, Riyad Ramjaun, Taha Iqbal, Zain Khilji & Hashim Ghazi]
WE BACK. WE BACK. WE BIGGITY BIGGITY BIGGITY BACK. Season 6 of BSL is 48 hours away and we cannot WAIT to get back onto the field. Birchwood is looking as crisp as it's ever looked, and we enter into S6 with a lot of new identities. With five new GMs, a lot stands to see what these new-look franchises bring to the table. Also, with so many "one-team players" taking up residence in new dynasties, it will be interesting to see whether the new surroundings better or batter their performances.
We also have a transaction to report: A K of the Mamluks has withdrawn due to injury, and the Mamluks have picked up Arslan Shahid off waivers to replace him. We wish A K a swift recovery and welcome Arslan back to the League.
We will be hosting a day of fun on Opening Day that will feature food to indulge in and a number of activities for kids (including a live reptile show and free Henna - for the players asking whether they can get henna tattoos, the answer is no. This isn't Wonderland in 1999, act your age please). All proceeds raised from Opening Day will go to Islamic Relief - we look forward to you and your families attending!
And now without further ado, here are the rumours for Week 1.
ABBASIDS (@ Nasrids 2:00PM BW1 & vs Seljuqs 3:30PM BW2)
Enough has been said about the past of the Abbasids, but new GM Bilal Javed is not focusing on that. Javed has assembled arguably the deepest and best team in the League, and according to this writer, stand as the favourites coming into the season. The top five – Sameer Rafique, Ismail Akhter, Ibrahim Sardar, Zahid Merchant and Bilal himself – balances contact with power, and make up the core of their defense. However, as every championship team will tell you, it's not your top that makes the difference, it's the bottom. Javed hit some draft-day home runs in picks like Mohsin Zubair, Arshad Chawdhry and Mohamed Kala that will really take this team to the Promised Land. These three play a huge role in establishing an elite defense that will hold leads and let their offense work without pressure. The Abbasids will also lean on Sardi to man the mound like he did last year for the Nasrids, and allow former pitcher Ziggy to make an impact on other areas of the field. The new-look Abbasids aren't focusing on the skeletons in the closet because to them, they have none. The team is committed to looking ahead, not back, and drawing from their collective experience to propel forward and take the league by storm. How the Lions get out of the gate will set the tone for their entire season, and they cannot wait to change the narrative surrounding the franchise starting this Sunday.
AYYUBIDS (@ Sultans 5:15PM BS1 & vs Ottomans 6:45PM BW1)
The new-look Ayyubids will feature some old and new this coming season. Former GM Umer Jabbar elected to withdraw as GM of the side in an effort to focus his time to his role as a Board member, and in comes new GM Umair Sheikh. Sheikh is no stranger to positions of leadership on the diamond, as he has played the role of manager for teams in other leagues and has always relished the opportunity to take charge when called upon in BSL. With him comes Jibran Waqar – yes, you read that right. White Man Can't Jibs will look a bit different in orange-and-black this year, but the man will continue to do what he does best on the diamond, which frankly is everything. Umair had a fantastic draft, notably in nabbing arguably the best pitcher available in Ali Jabbar, and then arguably the best defensive outfielder available in Michael Arlitt. He then went on to pick pieces that complement one another, taking some calculated risks in hopes of those bets leading to wins, most notably in nabbing second-year stud Aqib Khokhar. Khokhar is a shortstop by trade and happens to have a bazooka for an arm. With shortstop being held down by Waqar, Umair picked Aqib and slotted him in at third base. Aqib has all the tools needed to be an elite 3B in the League, and this stroke of genius may be what bring the Kurds back to glory this season. The Ayyubids feature in a tantalizing pair of matchups against the Mughals and Ottomans to open the season, and are confident in their chances to get two results on the good side of the ledger.
MAMLUKS (@ Seljuqs 2:00PM BW2 & vs Nasrids 3:30PM BW1)
Coming in to 2019, the Mamluks have a brand new look as we get ready to welcome two old faces to the Mamluks management team, Hassan Chaudhry and Taher Mirza. After another top-of-the-standings finish and trip to the finals, the Mamluks season ended in disappointment as they surrendered twelve runs in the final inning of the championship game despite being neck-and-neck with them from innings one through eight. Looking to avenge the loss will be the outfield duo – or is it shortstop-outfield duo? Pitcher-outfielder duo? Pitcher-shortstop duo? Who knows – of Hassan and Taher after former GM (and former pitcher, allegedly) Rizvan Merchant has packed his bags and headed to the Ottomans this year. Although the Mamluks fell short against the Sultans, they feel that they won't make the same mistakes again this year they drafted a strong team with a great defense to go along with it. The only knock on Mamluks that comes to mind is the uncertainty of their pitching as they are unsure of who takes the mound. Regardless of who draws the short straw, Gang Green will have plenty of help on defense as the outfield is full of quick guys with a chops to make big plays like W K, Yousaf Chaudhry, Hamid Malik, and Umair Wasim. There’s enough talent on this squad to keep opponents on their feet as Mamluks are pencilled in to finish the year in the top 3. Although that achievement won't be served to them on a silver platter, the Mamluks are confident as their preseason practices have focused on welcoming new players into the mix and building team chemistry. Captain Hassan has done a great job scheduling practices and working one-on-one with a lot of his teammates during the month of Ramadan in order to get ready for the upcoming season. As long as they don’t get in their own heads, the Mamluks are looking to return with a vengeance and will not be satisfied with anything short of a championship.
MUGHALS (@ Ottomans 5:15PM BW2 & vs Sultans 6:45PM BW2)
The Mughals enter the 2019 BSL Season drastically different from past Mughals teams. Specifically, the Mughals will, for the first time in their illustrious history, boast a new GM and in turn a new pitcher going into the season. Rookie GM Owais “Big Papi” Ansari will look to cement himself in Mughals history by taking the franchise to the promise land in his inaugural season. Big Papi in the middle of the lineup would make most pitchers quiver, but using early draft picks on big time hitters in playoff MVP Shaheen Limbada, Faraaz Alvi and Tamour Sheikh further add to the identity of the side as a power-laden offence. The rest of the roster is rounded up by BSL veterans who know what it takes to win a championship and who bring the right attitude to each game. The final piece of the puzzle this year will be the new Mughals pitcher, Riyad Ramjaun. Riyad previously pitched in seasons 1 and 2 of BSL but has since not taken the mound. Being a former Mughal himself, Riyad will look to channel his inner zigginess and hope he learned enough from Zahid Merchant to continue the Mughals winning ways. On paper, the 2019 Mughals look to be possibly the greatest Mughals team ever assembled, but paper means nothing once the season starts and it’ll be up to the players to prove that the Badshaahs will rise once again.
NASRIDS (vs Abbasids 2:00PM BW1 & @ Mamluks 3:30PM BW1)
The Nasrids must be happy with all the events leading up to the long-awaited opening week of BSL 6. The roster is looking like one of the best (if not the best) in franchise history and are already positioned in eyes of many as the team to beat. Their first success was being able to sign GM ‘Sir’ Nirvaan Latif to another short-term contract extension and bringing the likes of perennial MVP candidate Osman Buttar along with him. Asad Syed then slotted perfectly into their first pick to round off the core. The Nasrids, however, will miss out on the talents of their 4-year star shortstop Usama Mahmood, who will not feature in BSL this season. The team has high hopes on rookie Safwan Khan to replace the Usama-sized hole at shortstop, who turned a lot of heads with his play in the position at BSL nights. To round off the noticeable Nasrids names is former Nasrids GM Kashif Waheed, who is most excited about getting to rock the grey jerseys after suffering in sand in years past. Among the "good" the Nasrids are taking into the season is the term "practice." Nirvaan has openly emphasized practice in their pre-season routine and rumour has it that Asad tried to implement a mandatory ‘100 hits a day’ until their first game…we wish him the best with that. Sir Nirvaan also negotiated a trade that strengthens their outfield in acquiring Aazar Zafar. The team seems to have all the pieces, including a veteran pitcher in Tanseer Khawaja, to take them back to the finals they were so-close to winning a few years back. However, translating all that into wins is going to be the true test for the Spaniards.
OTTOMANS (vs Mughals 5:15PM BW2 & @ Ayyubids 6:45PM BW1)
The perennial juggernaut Ottomans return to Birchwood Park this year with an entirely new outlook. New GM Taha Iqbal and Imran Merchant have been teammates for most of their years in BSL, and are handed over the reins to continue the storied legacy of the Turks after Taha set the League ablaze for the squad last season. The Ottomans continued with their "new identity" approach in drafting former Mamluks GM Rizvan Merchant with their first round pick, and followed up with rookie-of-the-year candidate Abdullah Akhtar in round two. This core locks up the left side of the field and demonstrates five-tool capabilities in spots one through four of the lineup. The Turks peppered in some veterans and former teammates with the remaining picks of the draft, but had two questions facing them at the end of draft – who plays short and who pitches? They addressed the latter with a draft day deal acquiring Zia Beg, who, in his rookie campaign, manned the mound for the Royals during the franchise's best regular season in history, but the who plays short remains to be seen. It is only appropriate that these new look Ottomans face the two franchises they have storied pasts with in the Mughals and Ayyubids. The Mughals feature a number of core players from Ottomans teams of past, and this current Ottomans core has some ties to the Ayyubids – most notably Imran who is psyched at facing his former teammates and getting one up on them to start the year.
SELJUQS (vs Mamluks 2:00PM BW2 & @ Abbasids 3:30PM BW2)
Thanks to the informative GM podcast, we now know the Seljuqs name is pronounced Sell-Jooks, thanks to a little digging by team historian Zaid Ghansar and GM Umair Jabbar. What remains unknown is why the team's internal expectations do not match with external expectations. The Seljuqs were rarely mentioned by opposing GMs in their podcasts, if barely at all. However, the men that line up wearing the red, white and black that dreams are made of, know what they have in their locker, and in true Seljuq fashion, the team's unity, guided by their GM's voice which can be heard from Milton to Multan, remains unrivaled. These Seljuqs have certain similarities to the squad that so nearly ousted last-year's champions on the final weekend of the regular season. Namely, in addition to Umair, they bring back Omer Dhadhuk, Zain Khilji and the aforemented Ghansar, who offer immediate impact on both sides of the field. Hamza Waheed also returns from his sojourn in western Canada with a pitching game that is in full ascent. The new Seljuqs players add to the team's arsenal, with all-star and league darling Kamil Haider serving as shortstop. The icy-cool shortstop will be accompanied by Umer Jabber and Akif Waheed to fortify the team's infield. The outfield will be bolstered by a combination of Hassan Chaudhary (formerly of the champion Sultans), Hashim Ghazi (read: Hash), Tausif Hussain (rookie alert and dare we say sleeper pick?) and Hassan Afzal (read: Desert). The mix of old and new will produce a product that surely will not be forgotten by GMs in future weeks.
SULTANS (vs Ayyubids 5:15PM BW1 & @ Mughals 6:45PM BW2)
And here we are again. The grass has been freshly cut, the smell of hotdogs and burgers fills the early summer air, and the boys of Brotherhood Softball are back. And with that new beginning comes the commencement of the Sultans title defense in a year that features some new interesting changes. The Stallions continue to boast a strong core of GM Shamil Khadaroo, MVP Shahzad Ahmed and former OPOY Omer Chaudhry, but have lost some key pieces in last year's playoff MVP Shaheen Limbada (who was selected first overall) and elite shortstop Kamil Haider (who went eighth overall). How these changes will affect them will be interesting to monitor, but what will be even more interesting is what newcomers Owais Noori, Shawn Narine, and Basil Jeelany will bring to the League. Despite not a lot being known of these gentlemen prior to the draft, they preseason chatter has been on another level – basically, all three have been touted as rookie-of-the-year favourites by different people. Shawn is a former MVP and can hang with the best of them. Owais is a lethal bat. Basil is the best pitcher-hitter combo in BSL. A lot of praise in the direction of these guys will no doubt lead to some pressure as we await to see quotes stand as fact or folklore as the season progresses. The new look defending champs will be opening their season in the night portion of Sunday. They will be squaring off against the Ayyubids and Mughals, and there will be plenty of storylines to follow, including a matchup against their playoff MVP himself. Many questions loom: will the Sultans be able to overcome any potential falooda hangovers from last year? Will their matchup with the Mughals be a fairy tale like reunion? Will the established parity in the League pose a challenge for our reigning champs? Though no team has repeated as champs in the past, the Sultans are committed to changing that in 2019.
First pitch is set for 2PM on Sunday - season six couldn't come soon enough.