The crowd at the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore is at its feet, their hearts beating in a single, unified rhythm, and their eyes locked at the scenes unfolding before them.

Only two people in the world matter right now — Anwar Ali, whose job is to swing the bat hard enough to secure three runs, and Liam Dawson, who is doing everything in his power to eliminate that possibility.

Dawson takes his run-up and Anwar tightens his grip.

There's a roar, it's deafening.

It's a full toss.

Anwar comes down the track and strikes it over mid-on, aiming for a six.

Is it a six? Is it a four?

Is that a fielder!?

Oh, he has put it down. Oh lord, that's been dropped!

He throws it back to Dawson who is standing beside the stumps.

Wait, where's the non-striker?

What the hell is happening!?

Quetta have messed it up. Dawson knocks off the bails.

That's out. That's out now.

The most celebrated stage of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) is its much-awaited homecoming, and this year was no different.

Glowing under a cloudy Lahore sky, the Gaddafi Stadium played host to two eliminators on 20th and 21st March, 2018.

The arena, which was packed to almost full capacity on both nights, was buzzing with the sights and sounds of the third edition of the PSL.

Scattered showers on both days hampered the proceedings: the first eliminator faced a momentary pause in the first over to allow the drizzle to pass, and Wednesday's game was reduced to 16 overs per side.

Yellow remained the dominant colour, but support for all teams and players was evident in the unanimous, blaring cheers of the crowd.

Here's how it went down.

Peshawar Zalmi set the field afire on both occasions as they cemented their spot in the final by knocking out Quetta Gladiators and Karachi Kings.

It was a case of another almost for Quetta Gladiators as they lost by a single run in a last-over thriller against Zalmi. Their key players Kevin Pietersen and Shane Watson refused to come play in Lahore, which, in retrospect, did not hurt Quetta as much as was anticipated.

Chasing Zalmi's 157, Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Nawaz partnered up for 63 runs and it looked like Quetta would comfortably reach the target, till both batsmen fell prey to Sameen Gul in two consecutive deliveries.

Thereon, the balance was shaken, till Anwar Ali's cameo of 28 (14) took the match to a riveting climax. The rest is history.

The second eliminator on Wednesday proved to be a one-sided affair for the most part. The Kings were missing their star player Shahid Afridi and captain Imad Wasim, who were both unfit to play. Mohammad Amir held the reigns as Kings bowled first in a rain-affected game.

There was little Karachi Kings could do to compensate for the damage Kamran Akmal's ferocious innings of 77 (27) had caused.

Chasing a staggering 171 in 16 overs, Karachi's Joe Denly and Babar Azam worked up a partnership of 117, which did little to help their predicament as the required run-rate necessitated big-hitting from one end.

Despite facing five fast-bowlers and batting in a high-pressure chase, Karachi Kings finished with a run-rate of just under 10.

It became clear by the last few overs that Ingram should have been sent up the order, though perhaps this was meant to be a learning curve for Mohammad Amir.

The man at the helm for Zalmi, an injured Daren Sammy, led his team like a wounded tiger. Despite sustaining a muscular injury in the leg and walking with a limp, he demonstrated the kind of leadership and loyalty that few others have given to a franchise.

Daren Julius Sammy is a brand, a force, a storm. Over the years, his stint with Peshawar Zalmi has earned him enormous love and respect from all parts of Pakistan.

His dauntless captaincy saw Zalmi lift the trophy last season, and this year he is one game away from becoming the most successful PSL captain.

On the field, his presence gels together the entire unit, and off it he is a strong motivator for his men.

One of his comrades is the in-form Kamran Akmal, whose unreal knock against Karachi resembled the kind of cricket that is played on video-game console. He middled the ball with perfect timing and brutally exposed Karachi's poor-length bowling.

Akmal's home crowd enjoyed every bit of his explosive innings (8 sixes and 5 fours), a delicious cocktail of pull shots and classic cuts. He struck the fastest PSL 50 off just 17 balls, punishing anything short of length over the ropes.

There was little doubt about Kamran Akmal's pivotal role in the Zalmi line-up, but with this last innings he has really knocked hard at the national door.

Continuing his brilliant form from last season, he once again sits at the top of the run-scorers list with 424 this season, along with the most number of sixes (28).

The lights are out at the Gaddafi Stadium and the PSL moves to Karachi for the final showdown.

It is now between the inaugural champions and the defending champions to contend for their second PSL title as Pakistan's largest city gears up to host its first high-profile cricket game in nine years.


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