LAHORE: Mohammad Rizwan is keen his Multan Sultans side avoid letting any complacency creep in. Wahab Riaz is hoping the change of scenery will lead to an upturn in fortunes of Peshawar Zalmi.

The two sides clash in the Lahore leg opener of the HBL Pakistan Super League on Thursday with the Gaddafi Stadium set to be filled to 50 per cent capacity, up from 25 per cent allowed during the Karachi leg.

The Covid-enforced restrictions are set to be lifted completely after the first five days of the Lahore leg, meaning the final-four stage could see packed crowds.

And with all the six sides still in contention for the top four, it’s a race to the finish with five games remaining for each side.

Defending champions Sultans head the table, having won all of their opening five fixtures and on their current form look set to finish in the top four.

Rizwan has led from the front with the bat, as well as from behind the wickets, but stressed he doesn’t want his side to let its guard down.

“I have simply asked my players to keep doing what they did in Karachi and avoid any complacent thoughts as we know that all our opponents have enough firepower in their ranks to catch us off guard any day of the tournament,” he said.

Zalmi, who have just two wins from their opening five matches to sit second bottom ahead of winless Karachi Kings, are in need of a liftoff in Lahore if they are to win a second title following their triumph in 2017.

“The Karachi-leg didn’t go out as planned and we were not able to play to the best of our abilities,” Wahab said. “Our first aim in Lahore would be to register victories and ensure qualification in the play-offs.”

The side which cannot afford any slip-ups in Lahore are Babar Azam-led Kings, who failed to make hay in home conditions at Karachi’s National Stadium.

“It has been a really tough start for us but I’m confident that the whole team will be upbeat and ready to make a turnaround when we take on Zalmi on Sunday in our opening match of the Lahore leg,” said Babar.

Quetta Gladiators occupy fourth spot in the standings, thanks to a better run rate than Zalmi and arrive in Lahore on the back of a morale-boosting win over third-placed Lahore Qalandars in the final match of the Karachi leg thanks to an explosive century from England opener Jason Roy.

“It has given us renewed hope and we are determined to carry on in the same vein in Lahore,” Gladiators captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, who has come for criticism during his side’s three losses, said. “I firmly believe that we have the team strength and some incredibly skilled and experienced cricketers who can take us to the play-offs and beyond this season.”

Qalandars will look to quickly rebound from the loss against Gladiators when they take on the Sultans on Friday night and skipper Shaheen Shah Afridi looked forward to the prospect of playing in front of their home crowd.

“The second-half of the tournament is at our home turf and I am sure we will receive impassioned support, backing and following at the Gaddafi Stadium, especially with a 100 per cent crowd towards the backend of the tournament,” he said.

Qalandars trail Islamabad United due to an inferior run rate, both having won three matches so far. The Shadab Khan-led United open the second half of their campaign against the Gladiators on Saturday.

“Being top two on the points table at the half-way stage is impressive,” Shadab said. “We are fully focused on not only qualifying for the play-offs but on regaining the trophy that we last won in 2018.”

Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2022

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