FOR all the hype that Islamabad United had created after the players’ draft, it was only fitting that they won the coveted PSL trophy in front of thousands of people at the National Stadium, Karachi on Sunday.

When Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s most successful Test captain, lifted the trophy in front of the home crowd amidst loud cheers, it felt as if Pakistan cricket have come full circle. It was a sight to behold indeed. For the man who had played a significant role in restoring the image of Pakistan cricket team after the nasty spot-fixing scam at Lord’s in 2010, it was only fitting that Misbah got the honour of bringing back smiles on the faces of cricket-deprived fans in Karachi and, of course, Pakistan.

Barring their shaky start to the tournament, Islamabad United never looked in trouble at any stage in PSL III. In spite of losing three match-winning players in Andre Russell, Rumman Raees and Misbah to injuries, they continued to dominate, such was the depth of talent in their squad.

Their team management also deserves a lot of credit for persisting with Shadab Khan, who despite having an average PSL by his own standards, came in handy when it mattered the most. He picked up the important wickets of Andre Fletcher, Darren Sammy and Umaid Asif in the final - all of whom are capable enough to steal the show with their clean-hitting abilities.

Despite a few hiccups at the beginning, Young Hussain Talat also got a chance to showcase his talent and played a superb knock of 48 n.o. against Multan Sultans in a match that looked all but over for them at one stage when they were reduced to 63-5 while chasing 114 in Dubai.

Sahibzada Farhan also made his mark in the final and struck five 4s and one 6 in a flamboyant innings of 44. Farhan was also rated highly by fellow opener Luke Ronchi, the man who wreaked havoc with the opposition throughout the tournamennt.

They say cricket is a team-sport, but on many occasions, Ronchi defied that with his solo impact. At times, Ronchi was so ruthless with the bat that he finished the game in the powerplay overs and had scant respect for the bowlers no matter who they were.

Even in the final, if not for the late batting collapse, Islamabad United would have steamrolled Peshawar Zalmi because of the dream start provided by Ronchi. He scored a blistering 52 comprising four 4s and five 6s in his trademark style to pulverise the Zalmi bowling attack.

A rejuvenated Mohammad Sami also contributed wonderfully with the ball for Islamabad United and made sure that he didn’t give away any respite to the opposition in the tournament. It was great to see the 37 year old bowling his heart out every time he came on to bowl. He was quick and accurate and mighty effective. It was the perfect embodiment of the bowler Imran Khan had once predicted Sami to become.

Two of United’s star players, Alex Hales and Sam Billings, pulled out of the Pakistan leg but that didn’t hurt Islamabad as much as the withdrawal of Kevin Pietersen and Shane Watson.

JP Duminy led well in Misbah’s absence and could well replace him as permanent captain if the latter decides to hang up his boots for the next season.

Credit must also be given to Dean Jones and Waqar Younis who helped the players train vigorously in practice sessions and gave them useful pep talk every time they went into the field.

Two wins in three editions for Islamabad United proves the point that their homework was far better than the rest and they kept their focus and persisted with fine team combination to clinch the trophy.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2018

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