KARACHI: Peshawar Zalmi captain Wahab Riaz and his Lahore Qalandars counterpart Sohail Akhtar remained optimistic of winning the Pakistan Super League V’s first Eliminator to be played behind closed-doors here at the National Stadium on Saturday.
During their respective virtual media conferences on Thursday, both Wahab and Sohail expressed confidence of putting up a grand show in the match that will send one of these franchises packing home, while the winners will earn the right to play either Multan Sultans or Karachi Kings in Sunday’s second Eliminator after the top two sides clash in the Qualifier which precedes Saturday’s night fixture.
“Obviously being a do-or-die scenario for both these teams, there is no point in looking far ahead because we are primarily focussing on the immediate task in front [of us] and that is to emerge winners against Lahore Qalandars,” Pakistan fast bowler Wahab stressed. “In hindsight, it will be totally different this time to be playing the playoffs owing to the coronavirus [Covid-19] pandemic and play in bio-secure bubble with no crowds than we all had been used to back then.
“There is no chance second forthcoming for both us and Lahore Qalandars. No matter what, we have got to win on Saturday to stay alive in the tournament and then hope that you beat whoever you’ll be playing the next day [Sunday] to make the final in what is now a three-match journey.
“And then only you can think of winning the final, but we are not thinking on these lines because our main aim at this point in time is to plan how we are going to play and what is the best combination we need to emerge victorious against Lahore Qalandars.
“We may have a great record in head-to-head meetings [with Lahore Qalandars] with eight victories from 10 matches in PSL history. Although it is a nice feeling to have this sort of stats in the bag but biggest challenge is how you perform on the given day,” Wahab added.
The Peshawar Zalmi captain said all teams in the playoffs have to operate in the same environment. “Definitely, Covid-19 has changed everything related to how we all are coping. Likewise, sports have also adapted to the situation and cricket is no exception. As professionals, we must also realise and understand that it can be extremely tough on the players to quickly get the rhythm back.
“Nobody can predict how we will be playing because switching back to the mode isn’t that simple particularly after such a long [eight months] break. The momentum we had cannot be replicated in these crunch matches but our priority as a team is to go full throttle and put our best foot forward. The best thing for all teams here is that the local players have been active and playing on regular basis [National T20 Cup and Quaid-e-Azam Trophy] on the domestic circuit.”
Sohail, meanwhile, remarked Lahore Qalandars had been fortunate to have great fan-following throughout the country but they’ll miss the loud cheers that inspired them during the league-phase in February and March.
“We will surely miss the supporters in the ground because their presence served as huge inspiration. But we know that our diehard fans will be praying for the team on Saturday and hopefully, after that too. They are constantly on the social media and encouraging us all the time,” Sohail said. ”However, the biggest challenge is to get back into winning mode because neither side can afford to slip up in a knockout game Insha’Allah, we will be going all out for victory in the same vein when the tournament was halted in the middle of March due to the Covid-19 [pandemic].
“Importantly for us, the core of players who were part of the squad during the league phase, are available. Ben Dunk and Samit Patel played a crucial part in helping Lahore Qalandars to get into the playoffs and I’m sure they’ll lead our challenge again.”
Sohail negated the impression that Lahore Qalandars depend on a couple of players. “I think T20 cricket is basically all about achieving results and usually a handful of individuals get opportunities to play the main role. In our case it is wrong to say that we are over-dependent on Dunk. No doubt Dunk had contributed at crucial times when we needed him most. But other players also made their presence felt.”
Sohail termed Peshawar Zalmi as dangerous opponents, while adding Lahore Qalandars will be ready for them.
“One can’t even think of being complacent in any match. We know how good Peshawar Zalmi are and have been in the playoffs in every edition and this is our first time. But we assure you that Lahore Qalandars will be giving their best to beat them.”
In the meantime, former West Indies T20 skipper Carlos Brathwaite — who was famously described during commentary by ex-West Indies fast bowler Ian Bishop as ‘Remember the Name’ after the big all-rounder had smashed England’s Ben Stokes for four consecutive sixes to seal victory in the 2016 World T20 final at Eden Gardens in Kolkata — expressed his delight on coming to Pakistan again.
In an exclusive short interview with Zalmi TV, Brathwaite vowed that his focus was to help Peshawar Zalmi become champions.
“While it is a great pleasure to be in Pakistan once again and reunite with the Peshawar Zalmi family and help my team win the title. It is a matter of winning three matches to make this dream come true. Cricket is my passion and I’m happy to get another opportunity to play and entertain Peshawar Zalmi and Pakistan cricket fans,” the Barbadian said before issuing a warning: “I want to request all Pakistanis to be very careful towards the threat of Covid-19 pandemic by adhering to the SOPs (standard operating measures] to stay safe.”
Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2020