LAHORE: The HBL Pakistan Super League has provided rich cricketing entertainment to fans in the last four seasons. It began with five franchises in 2016 and Multan Sultans who represent the city of Saints joined the T20 league in 2018.
Islamabad United, representing the federal capital, boast two HBL PSL titles, which they bagged in the inaugural edition in 2016 and in 2018.
Sultans, in their two outings, to date, have not been able to make it to the play-off stage. They, however, have provided some real on the field fireworks.
The Shan Masood-led unit have had some thrilling matches and moments with various opponents, especially against Islamabad United who will be captained by Shadab Khan in this season.
Past results show that the two PSL outfits have faced off four times where United have won two and Sultans have won two also. However, United had the upper hand against Sultans in the HBL PSL 2018 season. United won both the matches between the two sides on their way to the ultimate glory in the final against Peshawar Zalmi in front of a hysterical crowd at the National Stadium on March 25.
The two teams first met on Feb 25 at the Dubai International Stadium. Sultans were rolled over for a paltry 113 in 19.5 overs after United had asked them to bat first. United went past the target for the loss of five wickets in 17.4 overs. Left-handed Hussain Talat guided United home with an unbeaten 48 off 34 balls - his innings included four fours and three sixes and he was adjudged man-of-the-match for his match winning effort.
United then won a high-scoring encounter played at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on 13 March. Batting first, the victors posted 185 for four on the back of a whirlwind 58 off 36 balls by Luke Ronchi (six fours, three sixes) and a scintillating 46 off 33 balls by Alex Hales. Hussain continued his good form against Sultans, scoring 36 off 21 balls.
Kieron Pollard fought hard for Sultans with a smashing 73 off 47 balls. His innings was studded with five fours and six sixes, but he failed to take his side past the target as United recording a comfortable 33-run win at the end.
However, Sultans turned the tables on United in the 2019 season by winning both round matches by five and six wickets respectively.
The first match between the two sides of the HBL PSL 2019 season was staged at the Dubai International Stadium on Feb 16.
Ronchi got United off to a flying start with 51 off 33 balls. His dismissal triggered a collapse as United stuttered to 125 for seven in 20 overs.
Captain Shoaib Maliks unbeaten 31 helped Sultans surpass the target in the penultimate over of the match for the loss of five wickets.
The return clash was also played at the Dubai International Stadium. The 26 February match was won by Sultans by six wickets as they overhauled the 122-run target for the loss of six wickets with 11 balls to spare. Daniel Christians all-round man-of-the-match award winning effort (three wickets and 16 not out) helped Sultans record a comfortable win.
United have once again assembled a formidable squad that is a real contender for silverware at the HBL PSL 2020. But Sultans too have a very strong combination which will fight United toe-to-toe when the two sides clash in their two group fixtures.
Their first match is scheduled to take place at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium on Feb 22. The two teams then play at United’s home ground, Pindi Cricket Stadium, in Rawalpindi on March 8. The battles to look for would be between United’s formidable top-order and Sultans bowling line-up.
Uniteds batting prowess at the top is led by Ronchi, Englands T20 specialist Dawid Malan (former HBL PSL winner with Peshawar Zalmi), South African Colin Ingram (former Karachi Kings player), New Zealand’s Colin Munro (former Karachi Kings player) and the explosive upcoming left-handed opener Rizwan Hussain.
Sultans bowling attack on the other end includes real experience and pedigree in Junaid Khan, Sohail Tanvir, Mohammad Irfan, Shahid Afridi and Imran Tahir. The bowling attack that has tons of T20 international and franchise experience around the world is backed by the raw pace of Mohammad Ilyas (second season for Sultans) and all-rounder Bilawal Bhatti.
Conversely, United also have a richly experienced and capable bowling attack that is led by their captain and leg-spinner Shadab Khan. Shadab will also have the services of South African fast bowling legend Dale Steyn who is set to make his first HBL PSL appearance.
United have to their disposal all-rounder Faheem Ashraf who has been one of the most successful bowlers in the tournament. His 18-wicket haul was one of the major reasons for Uniteds 2018 title triumph. Pakistan T20 Internationals Musa Khan and Rumman Raees provide pace and guile to the attack.
Sultans though would aim to counter the United bowlers with their own power-packed batting line-up, especially the top-order. The ever-improving Shan Masood leads the Sultans both as captain and opener and he will have Englands explosive James Vince (ICC Cricket World Cup winner with Englands 2019 side) and South Africas Rilee Rossouw (HBL PSL winner with Quetta Gladiators).
The Wild Card Platinum category pick Zeeshan Ashraf has the capability of hitting some big sixes at the top of the innings too. The Best Batsman of the National T20 2019-20 2nd XI tournament can be a surprise package for Sultans.
The ever green Afridi can also be called-up anytime to provide fireworks with the bat depending on the situation of the match.
With the spoils equally shared between the two teams so far, the HBL PSL 2020 has the potential of adding more thrilling moments in the United v Sultans rivalry.
All followers should keep an eye on this rivalry, which possesses all the potential to shape into big.
Islamabad United: Platinum Shadab Khan (captain), Dale Steyn and Colin Ingram Diamond Faheem Ashraf, Asif Ali and Colin Munro Gold Luke Ronchi, Hussain Talat and Rumman Raees Silver Amad Butt, Musa Khan, Rizwan Hussain, Zafar Gohar and Phil Salt Emerging Akif Javed and Ahmed Safi Abdullah Supplementary Saif Badar and Dawid Malan (Silver)
Multan Sultans: Platinum Mohammad Irfan, Moeen Ali and Rilee Rossouw Diamond Shahid Afridi, Zeeshan Ashraf and Ravi Bopara Gold James Vince, Junaid Khan and Sohail Tanvir Silver Ali Shafiq, Shan Masood (captain), Khushdil Shah, Usman Qadir, Fabian Allen (from 7 March) and Wayne Madesn (till 7 March) Emerging Mohammad Ilyas and Rohail Nazir Supplementary Imran Tahir and Bilawal Bhatti.
Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2020