LAHORE: Political unrest in Lahore on Tuesday forced both Lahore Qalandars and Multan Sultans to cancel their training sessions. It’s hardly the buildup the two latest winners of the Pakistan Super League would’ve wanted ahead of their clash in the Qualifier on Wednesday.

Both defending champions Qalandars and Sultans, the 2021 winners, were unable to travel to the Gaddafi Stadium for their practice on the eve of the game and it forced Pakistan Cricket Board’s interim management committee chairman Najam Sethi to send out a tweet to the Punjab government to ensure security as the eighth season of the PSL enters its business end.

Lahore turned into a battlefield on Tuesday as clashes erupted between riot police and supporters of Imran Khan as authorities moved to arrest the former prime minister. It is understood that the PCB is in touch with security agencies and there is no real concern regarding the staging of the Qualifier.

But appealing to Punjab chief minister Mohsin Naqvi, Sethi tweeted on T: “PSL 8 multi-million dollar final on 19 March will be played before 25k people at Gaddafi Stadium & 100m across the globe. This is Pakistan’s finest showcase. Punjab government must ensure failsafe security & smooth traffic flow to facilitate people’s access to the stadium.”

The winner of Wednesday’s clash will advance to the final with the loser having a second chance to reach the title clash in Eliminator 2 on Friday.

Qalandars won their maiden PSL title by beating the Sultans in the final last season and have won four of their last five head-to-head games. But past performance will count for little come Wednesday with both sides showing their mettle to finish in the top two at the end of the league stage.

The Qalandars, though, will have home advantage and their captain and pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi is counting on it to tilt the tie in his side’s favour as they seek to become the first side to successfully defend the title.

“We are very thankful to our fans for their continuous support,” he was quoted as saying in a news release on Tuesday. “We have seen houseful matches [at Gaddafi Stadium] where the crowd turns out in large numbers to support us. We cannot wait to repay their faith with another title.”

Multan Sultans’ skipper Mohammad Rizwan is the leading run-scorer in this season’s competition and his side also have the tournament’s leading wicket-taker so far in Abbas Afridi. They began the season with a bang but only secured a top-two finish by winning their last game of the league round.

“We enter the Playoffs with some great fighting spirit and that is what is needed towards the backend of a tournament like this,” said Rizwan. “You need to have that confidence that you can bounce back from any situation and that record run chase and then exceptional performances from our youngsters like Usman Khan, Abbas Afridi and Ihsanullah have instilled believe in us that we can comeback from anywhere.”

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2023

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