KARACHI: It is down to just one game of the sixth HBL Pakistan Super League which, at various times, seemed in great danger of being left half-done until it was shifted from Karachi to the cauldron of the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi where on Thursday Multan Sultans and Peshawar Zalmi battle it out in the decider.
While Multan have never been in the HBL PSL final before this edition, Peshawar had seen it all no less than four times. And yet Peshawar have managed to clinch the trophy in the biggest encounter just once — when they overcame a depleted Quetta Gladiators at Lahore in March 2017.
On head-to-head count, Multan have won five of their eight fixtures against Peshawar since their entry into the PSL in 2018. But the final is not about such statistics because the pressure in such a situation can be unbearable to soak as Peshawar found out twice — losing the finals to Islamabad United (2018) and Quetta Gladiators (2019) — and last year they had to elevate Wahab Riaz to the captaincy as Darren Sammy, who has just been appointed as the newest member of Cricket West Indies’ Board of Directors, stepped aside to become the head coach midway through the fifth edition.
While that change of command has worked wonders for Peshawar, Multan have also benefited exactly the same way although the 11th hour decision to have Mohammad Rizwan as captain in place of Shan Masood before the start of PSL 6 created quite a stir in some quarters. Rizwan took a while to settle down and appease the critics who had openly questioned Pakistan’s wicket-keeper/batsman’s promotion to the role by his franchise. Using the resources at his disposal have been one of the stories of this tournament and two of his players — Sohaib Maqsood with the bat and Shahnawaz Dhani, top wicket-taker in this PSL with 20 — have been the driving force behind Multan’s march to the grand finale.
Wahab Riaz reasoned on Wednesday that the backroom environment is the key to his side’s successful run through this campaign that was abruptly interrupted for three months because of the pandemic.
“Ours is a side in which each and every individual, regardless of their age or status, functions in key roles. [Head coach] Darren Sammy and [team director] Mohammad Akram have given us freedom to enjoy each other’s successes and moreover, they [Sammy and Akram] never try to pinpoint the faults unnecessarily and their attitude has allowed to play good cricket as a combined unit,” Wahab told a virtual media conference on eve of the final.
“There is a massive difference if right kind of people are part of team management. Therefore, we have been very fortunate to have that comfort zone.”
Wahab claimed Multan would feel the pressure more than Peshawar for obvious reasons.
“It is great privilege to be playing the final once again. Obviously Peshawar have reached there thrice in five years and on top of it, we have always qualified for the playoffs across those seasons.
“Whereas, Multan, no doubt, are a very good side but this is their first taste of playing the final and they’ll be under more pressure than Peshawar. But having said that, nothing is certain in life and Alhamdulillah, another opportunity has come for us to prove how consistently our side has been performing. And personally I’m extremely proud to be part of the Zalmi family through thick and thin since our journey began in 2016.”
On a lighter note, Wahab said the responsibility of leadership makes him nervous at times.
“In normal circumstances, I’m a jovial person who enjoys playing cricket. But when you know that you’re the captain, the responsibility entrusted on your shoulders tend to put you in a state of jitters on occasions. I did get nervous during both the playoff matches because we had to win them, and we did!”
Rizwan, in the meantime, expressed delight at Multan’s come-from-behind journey after sealing one win in five matches during the Karachi leg as the captain led by example to emerge as the second highest run-getter (470) in the competition.
“This is a kind of bounce back for Multan to get into the final. It would be totally unfair on my part to single out players who have taken the side this far when it was quite evident we’ll probably not make it to the playoffs,” Rizwan told reporters during his online presser.
“I think we were lacking the momentum in Karachi where we were getting into the final stages but not finishing the game. But over here [in Abu Dhabi], we sat down and discussed where we’re going wrong and worked on those weak areas to get into the rhythm. Now everyone is contributing. The batsmen are getting enough runs to give bowlers something to bowl at, and vice versa. We have definitely gelled as a team that believes in winning the final and that self-belief Insha’Allah will make all of Multan Sultans supports very, very proud.
“Coming to this campaign our endeavour has been to play good cricket and peak at the right time to get the momentum just we did in the playoffs against Karachi [Kings] and Islamabad [United] because we were left with no other option to make the final.”
Wahab credited team planning during the selection process as the key element of Peshawar’s overall success.
“As we all know the break between the Karachi and Abu Dhabi legs required astute planning to get the right formula since some of the overseas players were not available for a variety of reasons. I think we are very lucky to have someone like Hazratullah Zazai joining us at the backend and the way he had been batting so far is there for all to see and enjoy. We are proud of him for making it easy for Peshawar in crucial moments. It is not only Zazai, others have also made impact when required. So credit goes to the management for getting the like-for-like replacements spot on, and they have all delivered,” the left-arm speedster added.
Had there been no restrictions in place due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic — which also necessitated all teams staying in the bio-secure bubble throughout the duration of the competition — one factor Peshawar would obviously not have missed out in a clash of this magnitude was the vociferous support of the expats residing in the UAE.
While Peshawar are bidding to emulate Islamabad’s feat of being crowned PSL champions twice, Multan are chasing history in what could be an intriguing battle for supremacy on Thursday night.
MULTAN SULTANS: Mohammad Rizwan (captain), Shan Masood, Sohaib Maqsood, Rille Rossouw, Johnson Charles, Khushdil Shah, Sohail Tanvir, Imran Tahir, Blessing Muzarabani, Imran Khan, Shahnawaz Dhani, Sohail Khan, Usman Qadir, Mohammad Umar
PESHAWAR ZALMI: Wahab Riaz (captain), Hazratullah Zazai, Kamran Akmal, Jonathan Wells, Shoaib Malik, Rovman Powell, Sherfane Rutherford, Amad Butt, Umaid Asif, Mohammad Imran, Mohammad Irfan, Imam-ul-Haq, Khalid Usman, Abrar Ahmed.
UMPIRES: Ahsan Raza and Aleem Dar
TV UMPIRE: Asif Yaqoob
FOURTH OFFICIAL: Rashid Riaz
MATCH REFEREE: Mohammad Anees.
Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2021