KARACHI: The fourth edition of HBL Pakistan Super League couldn’t have generated Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi as the most deserving franchises to be clashing in the blockbuster finale here at the National Stadium on Sunday (today).
With the title-decider already a sell-out clash of the titans, thousands and thousands of cricket diehards are bitterly disappointed at missing out seeing their favourite stars playing in front of their eyes at this historic arena simply because there are no tickets available. All of them will watch the action either on television in the comfort of their homes or the massive screens installed at countless vintage spots in the city.
There is no doubt that the routine lifestyle of the Karachiites will be severely disrupted for one last time well before the first ball is delivered after a spectacular closing ceremony that is slated to get underway at 6pm. The obvious highlight of this glitzy event is going to be the appearance of Spain and Barcelona football great Carles Puyol as a special guest.
The iconic National Stadium would be staging its second straight PSL final after last year’s fixture proved a resounding success for Pakistan in their indefatigable exercise of bringing full-fledged international cricket back to the country.
Astonishingly, both Gladiators and Zalmi are set to lock horns for an unprecedented fourth time in this edition with Sarfraz Ahmed’s charges coming into the biggest game of the competition with a 3-0 psychological advantage against Darren Sammy’s resilient side and also enjoying a 7-5 lead against their fiercest rivals.
While the Gladiators are bidding to clinch their maiden trophy after finishing runners-up in the first two editions, 2017 champions Zalmi are aiming to make up for the painful memories of the 2018 final when they were upstaged a blazing Luke Ronchi innings which eventually guided Islamabad United to their second title in three seasons.
In their pre-final pressers on Saturday both captains admitted that in the highly unpredictable T20 format there are no guarantees of one particular side being overwhelming favourites because of the way fortunes alter so rapidly.
But still Sarfraz, the Pakistan captain in all three formats, has a burning desire to overcome the last hurdle this time.
“Obviously, it hurts when you get into the final and not finish on the winning side. Winning the trophy is every captain’s wish. We came so close twice but were not able to pull it off. But we are more than determined this time and we will do our best against a pretty strong side like Zalmi,” Sarfraz told reporters.
“They are one of the best teams of the league and have a strong bowling line-up. Despite winning three times against them this year, we will be trying to do better than what we have done against them in those fixtures because we are keen on removing the tag of ‘chokers’ in the finals.”
Sammy surprised everyone when he stated his team won’t mind being not rated as the favourites for the crown.
“On the contrary, we like to be the underdogs [in the final]. To be fair, the Gladiators have played some good cricket. The best part of our side is we play as team and have so many leaders in the squad because despite being the captain, I [always] encourage the guys to be leaders in the dressing room and on the field. You see Chris Jordan, Wahab Riaz and Misbah-ul-Haq, when he plays, talking to the bowlers.”
Both teams are unlikely to tinker with their respective line-ups but the Gladiators are sweating over the availability of their experienced leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed, who was badly hit in the face by a powerful drive from Imam-ul-Haq and lost a tooth in the process during Wednesday’s qualifier.
“Fawad still has swelling on his face. We are keeping our fingers crossed over his fitness. If he feels comfortable only then he will play, otherwise we won’t risk him taking the field tomorrow,” Sarfraz revealed. “His [possible] absence is a big setback and though we have other options to choose from, Fawad has been one of the key factors behind our success.”
Sarfraz, however, is glad to have in-form Shane Watson — the tournament’s leading run-getter with 423 — and is hoping Umar Akmal plays a match-winning innings.
“Both quality players are our main batsmen. Shane has batted quite superbly almost throughout the tournament. We are very, very fortunate to have him in great form,” the skipper said. “It’s good that a top player like him is playing for the Gladiators in this final and presence gives us lot of confidence. Umar may have not scored the runs he would have like to in recent matches but he’s too good a batsman who I’m sure will come to the party tomorrow [Sunday]. And then we have Rilee Rossouw and Ahmed Shehzad, whose good form of late is a big plus for us, while Ahsan Ali has proved he’s got the talent to play at the top level.
“And we if we are able to post a sizeable total upfront, then our chance [of winning] are bright because in a final the scoreboard pressure does play on the mind of team chasing. But we have to remain our toes because Zalmi also have very strong batting line-up. Kamran Akmal and imam are both in tremendous form and we mustn’t forget what Sammy and [Kieron] Pollard can do,” Sarfraz warned his team.
“Moreover, Zalmi have the best fast-bowling combination of all teams in this PSL. Hasan Ali [the leading wicket-taker with 25] has just been in phenomenal form. But we have Mohammad Hasnain who bowls as fast as anyone else and regularly touches 140-plus mark, and Dwayne Bravo. Our spinners [Mohammad Nawaz and Fawad] have been brilliant in the middle overs.”
Former West Indies captain Sammy, meanwhile, pointed out that to win key moments it is important to remain aware of the match-situation, while indicating he would prefer to bat if the toss goes his way.
“So far teams batting first with no [scoreboard] pressure have been able to set a good total of over 180. But in a do-or-die game the runs have proven to add pressure on the opposition chasing. Ideally, when the pitch is so good like here, you want to bowl first but so far it is a proven factor that batting first seems to be the better option,” the two-time World Twenty20-winning skipper stressed.
“For Zalmi making it to three consecutive finals is an achievement for the team but winning the final will be the icing on the cake. But we have to play our best game to beat a very good side which has got the better of us throughout this PSL.
“The real difference from my viewpoint is Watson. He has been a pain in the neck for us because being pretty experienced he has been enjoying his form. Hopefully, tomorrow it’s another cracker of a game and we find ways and means to execute our plans well against them because we’ll need that.”
PESHAWAR ZALMI: Kamran Akmal, Imam-ul-Haq, Sohaib Maqsood, Umar Amin, Kieron Pollard, Darren Sammy (captain), Nabi Gul, Chris Jordan, Wahab Riaz, Hasan Ali, Tymal Mills, Sameen Gul, Liam Dawson, Misbah-ul-Haq, Andre Fletcher
QUETTA GLADIATORS: Shane Watson, Ahmed Shehzad, Ahsan Ali, Rilee Rossouw, Umar Akmal, Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Mohammad Nawaz, Dwayne Bravo, Sohail Tanvir, Mohammad Hasnain, Fawad Ahmed, Anwar Ali, Mohammad Irfan Jr, Mohammad Asghar
Umpires: Ahsan Raza (Pakistan) and Ranmore Martinesz (Sri Lanka)
TV umpire: Shozab Raza (Pakistan)
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (Sri Lanka).
Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2019