AFTER a 30-match preliminary-round backbreaking schedule, the HBL Pakistan Super League’s third edition is now at the business end of the competition as Islamabad United and Karachi Kings prepare to battle it out in the qualifier at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium here on Sunday night.

The reward for the winners will, of course, be the ticket straight into the final at Karachi’s National Stadium next week, while losers stand to get another opportunity to qualify for the title-decider on March 25 when they face either Peshawar Zalmi or Quetta Gladiators — the two last year’s finalists who face each in the first eliminator in Lahore on Tuesday — at the Gaddafi Stadium on Wednesday.

Karachi left it until the last league fixture on Friday night to book their playoff berth by ending Islamabad’s sequence of six consecutive victories. But they are aware of the glaring factor that was missing at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium when Islamabad rested the first-choice trio of Luke Ronchi, Mohammad Sami and Samit Patel.

Karachi head coach Mickey Arthur, who is presently also in-charge of Pakistan’s national team, while looking forward to Sunday’s big game warned his charges of what to expect when the above-mentioned players rejoin their side.

“I think it would be a cracking game to be honest. And Friday’s match has really given our team the self-belief and motivation to beat Islamabad. But I also told my players it would be a tough battle out there tomorrow [Sunday] simply because Islamabad will field their full-strength squad,” Arthur told reporters on Saturday.

“In hindsight, people may think we have the momentum but when are in a contest such as the qualifier, the level of intensity is extremely high and the atmosphere electrifying. It’s like a mind-game where one has to be carefully at every move being made.

“However, we’ve got to be realistic because Ronchi will be back and so are Patel and Sami. So make no mistake, they [Islamabad] will be different kettle of fish.

“The execution of [game] plans has got to be spot on and that’s my philosophy of getting the lads to operate in this mode. We always had good games against these [Islamabad] guys. We beat them [Islamabad] twice last year, first in the last league game and I think it was a kind of déjà vu, although for both these teams, it was qualifying for third and fourth places.

“I’m definitely looking forward to tomorrow because our foremost goal is to beat Islamabad and head straight to Karachi for the final. Imagine, the scenes that would be unfolding when Karachi play the final in front of wonderful home supporters. To be honest, there’s added pressure on us because they are already selling memorabilia in Karachi!”

Arthur also revealed that Karachi captain Imad Wasim won’t be taking part in Sunday’s fixture as the Pakistan limited-overs all-rounder is still not fully fit after hurting his back during the league-round tie against Lahore Qalandars in Sharjah last Sunday.

“Imad is making good progress but he’ll not be playing tomorrow. But we are hoping he is available again for the next match we play.”

All the foreign players in Karachi Kings side — Joe Denly, Ravi Bopara Tymal Mills (England), Colin Ingram and Davud Wiese (South Africa) and Lendl Simmons (West Indies) are ready to travel to Pakistan for the PSL matches.

However, England’s T20 captain Eoin Morgan, who is currently leading Karachi Kings in PSL in place of injured Imad in the UAE, is not going to Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Islamabad head coach Dean Jones insisted that the players in his side have gelled well and will be playing hard cricket come Sunday.

“I have really impressed with the way our players have prepared and gone about their work ethnic in terms of improving their overall game. I’m particularly pleased the the way younger players like Hussain Talat, Fahim Ashraf and Asif Ali have developed in this tournament and learned their roles to play with freedom and what sort of belief we have in them,” the ex-Australian cricketer said.

“Hussain is a terrific player, Asif has something about him and people often ask me why we retained him and now you know why. Amad Butt is another guy who is coming along well and Fahim is taking on the responsibilities we gave him.

“I think we doing pretty okay to get into this game and the culture within the squad has been terrific with everyone enjoying each other’s company and success. That’s the hallmark of a good team. I have to say we have had more practices than anyone and we had more full net sessions than any other franchises. Tactically and strategically our support staff has been working out the opposition and we’ve been unbelievingly well prepared. In a nutshell, we have left no stone unturned when we go into our matches,” Jones revealed.

However, Jones refused to indicate whether the overseas players in the squad would be travelling to Pakistan. “I think you’ll have to wait to find out who is going and who is not until we get into Pakistan.”

Although there have been no official confirmation yet from other franchises of the playoffs (Islamabad United, Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi), Islamabad United players Luke Ronchi of New Zealand and England’s Samit Patel have both indicated earlier they will play PSL games in Pakistan.

Final standings

(Tabulated under: played, won, loss, no result, points, net run-rate):

Islamabad United 10 7 3 0 14 +0.296

Karachi Kings 10 5 4 1 11 +0.028

Peshawar Zalmi 10 5 5 0 10 +0.464

Quetta Gladiators 10 5 5 0 10 +0.312

Multan Sultans 10 4 5 1 9 -0.191

Lahore Qalandars 10 3 6 0 6 -0.931

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2018



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