KARACHI: As the clock ticks by, there are nervous faces in three camps on the eve of the Karachi-leg fixtures of the HBL Pakistan Super League here at the National Stadium.
Defending champions Islamabad United, Karachi Kings and Lahore Qalandars are still in the running for the two available playoff places with the Quetta Gladiators already through to the March 14 qualifier while Peshawar Zalmi are just one win away from joining the current leaders.
First up on Saturday is the evening clash between United and the injury-hit Qalandars. The equation is not lucid, but if Mohammad Sami’s United emerge winners then the Qalandars’ task becomes very difficult because they would heavily rely on Gladiators and Zalmi to bail them out by winning their respective matches against the Kings with sufficient margins.
The complexities are such that if the champions lose their last preliminary-round fixture, they will still be in the run. The United are on eight points — two more than fifth-placed Qalandars — but unlike both Qalandars and the Kings, they can’t take risks at a venue where last year they clinched the PSL trophy on the back of a buccaneering Luke Ronchi innings in the final against Zalmi.
After losing first-choice leaders Mohammad Hafeez and A.B. de Villiers through injuries, the Qalandars have been struggling to have a settled playing XI since. Fakhar Zaman, as the stand-in captain, has added to the mounting problems by not being in the best of form as the Pakistan left-hander was last year.
The forced absence of de Villiers has left the Qalandars in a state of despair. The South African legend tops the chart for them with 218 runs — a tally that Fakhar (currently on 194) would love to overtake.Logistics and operational issues faced by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has tragically deprived the Qalandars the opportunity of playing their last two games in Lahore but this last-minute shift of venue could still inspire them to give their best and avoid the looming danger of missing out the playoffs for the fourth year running.
But they are very much alive in the tournament as they face a United side that is beatable since their last league assignment is against the already-eliminated Multan Sultans on Monday.
Current standings (Tabulated under played, won, lost, points, net run-rate): Quetta Gladiators 9 7 2 14 +0.423 Peshawar Zalmi 9 6 3 12 +0.566 Islamabad United 9 4 5 8 -0.139 Karachi Kings 8 4 4 8 -0.459 Lahore Qalandars 8 3 5 6 -0.304 Multan Sultans 9 2 7 4 -0.145
Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2019