KARACHI: The boys are once again back in this teeming city of lights as the HBL PSL 6 season rolls into action — with high hopes of uninterrupted T20 cricket entertainment — when Karachi Kings begin their title defence against the 2019 champions Quetta Gladiators here at the National Stadium on Saturday.
It’s not just about the galaxy of stars — be they our own national players or the famed international ones — the most heartening part of HBL PSL 6 will be the return of fans, albeit in limited numbers, as the Karachi and Lahore stadiums will be filled up by 20 percent of their respective seating capacity as per decision of the National Command Operation Centre and according to the Covid-19 protocols.
Wasim Khan, the chief executive of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), is thrilled about the nation’s most popular sporting gala and expressed the involvement of cricket’s real stakeholders — the passionate crowds — would definitely enhance the Pakistan Super League’s excitement value.
“Doubtless to say the presence of fans will inspire the players in a cordial atmosphere which is something that embodies live sport. We should feel great pride and hope that this [PSL] edition will be safer and more spectacular than ever before,” Wasim said in a PCB statement. “We are extremely grateful to the National Command and Operation Centre for allowing us to have 20 percent fans during the matches.”
While Karachi will have 7,500 ticketholders in attendance on each of the match days, Lahore will welcome 5,500 fans per day with possibility of another 10 percent allowed in to the ground for the playoffs.
The 34-match competition, which culminates with the March 22 final at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium, promises another package of adrenaline-charged battles over the coming weeks as Karachi Kings attempt to create a history of their own. No HBL PSL franchise had ever won the trophy in successive seasons. While Islamabad United is the only team to clinch the coveted title twice — in 2016 and 2018 — Peshawar Zalmi complete the roster of champions with triumph in 2017.
It leaves Lahore Qalandars as the only team thus far to make the final — as they did for the first time last November — but yet to achieve the ultimate glory. Multan Sultans, who were the last franchise to get the HBL PSL status in 2018, looked on course to make the cut in 2020 but the HBL PSL V table-toppers, at the league stage, lost their energy when the tournament was abruptly postponed on eve of the playoffs when the Covid-19 pandemic was classified as life-threatening.
In fact, the outbreak of the deadly virus disrupted the backend league fixtures which were played behind closed doors with the crowds shunned away. The same process was replicated after eight months when the playoffs were held in Karachi instead of Lahore due to heavy smog in the Punjab metropolis.
Coming to HBL PSL 6 the first lot of 20 fixtures in Karachi won’t be short of electrifying because the weather at this time of the year is just perfect for cricket, and there is nothing better watching the T20 format’s entertainers playing to the gallery. Despite his forgetful past in the PSL, Chris Gayle returns once again as the ‘Universe Boss’ — the record-breaking West Indies left-hander is known by this title — teams up with the Sarfaraz Ahmed-led Quetta Gladiators.
The 41-year-old Gayle — T20 cricket’s highest run-getter (13,584) from 411 games with most centuries (22), the highest individual innings (an undefeated 175), the highest numbers of sixes (1,001) and fours (1,041) — is keen to stamp his authority after being a mediocre performer for Lahore Qalandars (2016) and Karachi Kings (2017). However, he’ll be heading home for a brief period for West Indies’ T20 series against Sri Lanka with South Africa’s Faf du Plessis filling in as a partial replacement, while Dale Steyn is unavailable for first couple of games for family reasons.
But Quetta Gladiators suffered a last-minute setback when they confirmed late on Thursday night that their ever-present mentor Sir Vivian Richards won’t be available for the HBL PSL 6 after the former West Indies captain and batting legend opted out due to the prevailing Covid-19 situation.
Karachi Kings, with Pakistan white-ball all-rounder Imad Wasim, have no worries as such and will be taking on Quetta Gladiators at full strength and with a bowling unit spearheaded by the ‘retired’ Pakistan paceman Mohammad Amir. But all eyes will be on Pakistan’s all-format captain Babar Azam after a lean trot in recent weeks because he holds the key to the champions’ batting.
The Sohail Akhtar-led Lahore Qalandars will be hoping to take advantage of South Africa batsman David Miller’s absence from the Peshawar Zalmi — who are being skippered by Wahab Riaz — when these teams meet on Sunday afternoon. Miller is currently competing in the CSA T20 Challenge and is set to reach Karachi on March 1. Peshawar Zalmi, meanwhile, received a belated boost with the arrival of ex-South Africa great Hashim Amla as their batting coach for the second straight season.
With the in-form Pakistan vice-captain Mohammad Rizwan as their new skipper, Multan Sultans brace for a daunting first outing under lights on Sunday against the two-time former champions Islamabad United, who have a formidable squad — featuring the rejuvenated Pakistan paceman Hasan Ali — under Shadab Khan’s leadership
There is an added incentive this time for not just the local players but some among the overseas contingent too because they will be all focusing on performing at their best to impress the national selectors with the T20 World Cup in India also coming up later in the year.
Schedule (all times PST)
Feb 20: Karachi Kings vs Quetta Gladiators (Karachi, 8:00pm)
Feb 21: Lahore Qalandars vs Peshawar Zalmi (Karachi, 2:00pm)
Feb 21: Islamabad United vs Multan Sultans (Karachi, 7:00pm)
Feb 22: Quetta Gladiators vs Lahore Qalandars (Karachi, 7:00pm)
Feb 23: Peshawar Zalmi vs Multan Sultans (Karachi, 7:00pm)
Feb 24: Karachi Kings vs Islamabad United (Karachi, 7:00pm)
Feb 25: Rest day
Feb 26: Multan Sultans vs Lahore Qalandars (Karachi, 3:00pm)
Feb 26: Peshawar Zalmi vs Quetta Gladiators (8:00pm)
Feb 27: Karachi Kings vs Multan Sultans (Karachi, 2:00pm)
Feb 27: Islamabad United vs Peshawar Zalmi (Karachi, 7:00pm)
Feb 28: Karachi Kings vs Lahore Qalandars (Karachi, 7:00pm)
March 1: Quetta Gladiators vs Islamabad United (Karachi, 7:00pm)
March 2: Rest day
March 3: Karachi Kings vs Peshawar Zalmi (Karachi, 2:00pm)
March 3: Quetta Gladiators vs Multan Sultans (Karachi, 7:00pm)
March 4: Islamabad United vs Lahore Qalandars (Karachi, 7:00pm)
March 5: Karachi Kings vs Multan Sultans (Karachi, 7:00pm)
March 6: Quetta Gladiators vs Islamabad United (2:00pm)
March 6: Peshawar Zalmi vs Lahore Qalandars (Karachi, 7:00pm)
March 7: Multan Sultans vs Quetta Gladiators (Karachi, 2:00pm)
March 7: Karachi Kings vs Islamabad United (7:00pm)
March 8: Rest day
March 9: Rest day
March 10: Peshawar Zalmi vs Karachi Kings (Lahore, 7:00pm)
March 11: Lahore Qalandars vs Quetta Gladiators (Lahore, 7:00pm)
March 12: Multan Sultans vs Peshawar Zalmi (Lahore, 3:00pm)
March 12: Lahore Qalandars vs Islamabad United (Lahore, 8:00pm)
March 13: Quetta Gladiators vs Karachi Kings (Lahore, 2:00pm)
March 13: Multan Sultans vs Islamabad United (Lahore, 7:00pm)
March 14: Quetta Gladiators vs Peshawar Zalmi (Lahore, 2:00pm)
March 14: Lahore Qalandars vs Karachi Kings (Lahore, 7:00pm)
March 15: Peshawar Zalmi vs Islamabad United (Lahore, 7:00pm)
March 16: Lahore Qalandars vs Multan Sultans (Lahore, 7:00pm)
March 17: Rest day
March 18: Qualifier — Team 1 vs Teams 2 (Lahore, 7:00pm)
March 19: Eliminator 1 — Team 3 vs Team 4 (Lahore, 7:00pm)
March 20: Eliminator 2 — Qualifier Losers vs Eliminator 1 Winners (Lahore, 8:00pm)
March 21: Rest day
March 22: Grand Final (Lahore, 7:00pm)
Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2021