KARACHI: At long last, the moment of truth arrives here on Saturday for the remaining four franchises of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) who will be involved in the fifth edition’s playoffs behind closed doors at the National Stadium after a gaping hiatus of 243 days after the 30-match preliminary phase was already done and dusted in the middle of March.
In the ensuing eight months of inactivity due to the worldwide outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19), a lot happened across the sporting front and cricket was no exception to the revised set of rules in the new world order. Expressions such as Covid testing, bio-security bubbles and quarantine have become part and parcel of routine life since then.
With Islamabad United — champions of the inaugural PSL in 2016 and then again in 2018 — and last year’s winners Quetta Gladiator already gone out of the competition after finishing sixth and fifth, respectively, there is a 75 percent chance of new champions emerging from the PSL V, provided of course if Peshawar Zalmi — who won the trophy 2017 and were the runners-up in the next two editions — fail in their mission to emulate Islamabad United.
Apart from Peshawar Zalmi, Multan Sultans — who topped the league standings in only their fourth season with seven victories from their 10 matches — Lahore Qalandars, who like Multan Sultans are in the playoffs for the first time after being rooted to the bottoms in each of the first four years of PSL and Karachi Kings are in the running this time.
The scenarios for these teams are quite clear-cut: Multan Sultans and Karachi Kings — by virtue of occupying the top two slots — meet first up in the Qualifier to decide who will go through straightway to the final, but the neither side would pack up and head home because the losers of this encounter still get another opportunity to progress through to the title-decider.
The real battle, therefore, is the Eliminator 1 tussle between Lahore Qalandars and Peshawar Zalmi on Saturday night because the winners will earn the right to meet the Qualifier losers in the Eliminator 2 on Sunday night and whoever win that all-important fixture qualify for the big match on Tuesday, that would decide the champions.
There is no rocket science theory to predict as to which of these teams will come out eventual winners of the redesigned PSL trophy — that actually represents Pakistan since it features a three-dimensional star and a crescent on the top — given the assorted look of their respective squads, necessitated by several players contracting Covid-19, international call-ups and in case of the popular ex-Peshawar Zalmi captain Darren Sammy, travel restrictions in the wake of virus pandemic.
With fans being confined to homes — and work places — while forced to watch their favourite teams — and stars — the iconic National Stadium would give an easy deserted look for the drastically-curtailed group of people on duty inside the arena and even those who will be glued to their TV sets, it will give them an eerie feeling.
Players, understandably, are fully aware of the unusual surroundings as they prepare to showcase their worth as true professionals. And these are the playoffs there is no chance to regroup after because there is none forthcoming, particularly in the three encounters under lights.
Karachi Kings, however, are chasing a dream of their own in the home city after being left grief-stricken by the untimely demise of Dean Jones, the inspirational head coach who masterminded Islamabad United’s title-winning seasons. The former Australian batsman — who died of a sudden cardiac arrest on Sept 23 in Mumbai while on IPL duty as a TV analyst — was a shrewd planner behind the scenes and his calming presence played a massive part in gelling Karachi Kings as serious title contenders, who will pocket $1 million with the runners-up set to collect $200,000.
Some of the original overseas players may be missing but the replacements here are equally good, if not better than those unavailable make the business end of PSL V quite enthralling. The likes of former South Africa captain Faf du Plessis (Peshawar Zalmi) and Bangladesh current ODI captain and opener Tamim Iqbal (Lahore Qalandars) are the notable replacements who will be making their PSL debuts, if they play.
It now remains to seen who among Shan Masood (Multan Sultans), Imad Wasim (Karachi Kings), Sohail Akhtar (Lahore Qalandars) and Wahab Riaz (Peshawar Zalmi) would be the luck captain to hold the PSL trophy around midnight on Tuesday.
MULTAN SULTANS: Shan Masood (captain), Adam Lyth (England), Ali Shafiq, Bilawal Bhatti, Brendan Taylor (Zimbabwe), Imran Tahir (South Africa), Joe Denly (England), Junaid Khan, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Ilyas, Mohammad Irfan, Ravi Bopara (England), Rilee Rossouw (South Africa), Rohail Nazir, Shahid Afridi, Sohail Tanvir, Usman Qadir, Zeeshan Ashraf.
KARACHI KINGS: Imad Wasim (captain), Aamir Yamin, Alex Hales (England), Arshad Iqbal, Awais Zia, Babar Azam, Cameron Delport (South Africa), Chadwick Walton (West Indies), Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Rizwan, Sharjeel Khan, Sherfane Rutherford (West Indies), Umaid Asif, Umar Khan, Usama Mir, Waqas Maqsood, Wayne Parnell (South Africa).
LAHORE QALANDARS: Sohail Akhtar (captain), Tamim Iqbal (Bangladesh), Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez, David Wiese (South Africa), Shaheen Shah Afridi, Usman Khan Shinwari, Samit Patel (England), Haris Rauf, Agha Salman, Ben Dunk (Australia), Farzan Raja, Jaahid Ali, Abid Ali, Mohammad Faizan, Maaz Khan, Dane Vilas (South Africa), Dilbar Hussain.
PESHAWAR ZALMI: Wahab Riaz (captain), Aamir Ali, Adil Amin, Carlos Brathwaite (West Indies), Faf du Plessis (South Africa), Haider Ali, Hardus Viljoen (South Africa), Imam-ul-Haq, Kamran Akmal, Khurram Shehzad, Mohammad Imran, Mohammad Mohsin, Rahat Ali, Saqib Mahmood, Shoaib Malik, Sohaib Maqsood, Umar Amin, Yasir Shah.
Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2020