Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium is set for a tantalising Pakistan Super League clash as teams with polar strengths and weaknesses clash for a place in Saturday’s final.
The tournament’s best bowling attack will take on the tournament’s worst, with Shaheen Shah Afridi’s men conceding only 1,745 runs in their 11 games as compared to Peshawar’s 2,130.
On the flip side, this is also a clash between the tournament’s best and worst batting attacks, with Babar Azam’s men boasting a league-high 2,115 runs that eclipse Lahore’s league-low 1,844.
It doesn’t take much analysis to figure out which baskets these teams have placed most of their eggs in and both teams will be hoping their obvious weaknesses can manage to rein in their opposition’s obvious strengths.
Lahore come into the game with an extra day’s rest, but Peshawar come into it with momentum.
Here are three things both teams need to do better if they want to play the final against Multan Sultans:
Utilise Mujeeb better: On paper, off-spinner Mujeeb-ur-Rahman is Peshawar’s best bowling weapon but the Afghanistan wizard has not managed to light up the tournament like some of his other compatriots have. Mujeeb’s economy of 8.7 may be the second best of his side, just marginally worse than fellow spinner Sufyan Muqeem’s 8.69, but that says more about the lack of quality around Mujeeb than it does about him.
Mujeeb only has four wickets and has perhaps been overused in the powerplay where he doesn’t have as much protection. A refiring Mujeeb immediately fixes Peshawar’s bowling problem and properly unleashing him against a struggling Lahore may allow him to feast again.
Middle order must carry on momentum: Peshawar’s middle-order was uncharacteristically slow against Islamabad and the loss of momentum in the final five overs nearly came back to haunt them. The ball didn’t quite come onto the bat once it got older on a two-paced pitch, but the approach of their lower middle order was particularly baffling.
The usually devastating trio of Tom Kohler-Cadmore, James Neesham, and Aamer Jamal made 19 runs between themselves in 30 deliveries. That is simply not good enough regardless of the conditions, especially considering Peshawar’s strong start that saw them lose only three wickets in the first 13 overs.
Bowlers need to be more consistent: Perhaps the biggest problem that Babar faces is the unreliability of all his bowlers so far. The skipper was helped by an inspired Salman Irshad in the game against Islamabad but there is no one who he can reliably turn to if things get tough, either to take a wicket or to stop the haemorrhaging of runs.
Four Lahore bowlers have taken more wickets than the nine of Wahab Riaz, Peshawar’s top wicket-taker while five Lahore bowlers have a better economy than Peshawar’s most economical bowler Muqeem.
Batsmen must step up: No prizes for guessing where it went wrong for Lahore as the hosts were dismissed for 76 after going into the qualifier as table toppers. Only three batsmen outscored extras and reached double figures. The side is over-reliant on Fakhar Zaman, who is the only Lahore batsman to score 200 runs in the tournament so far. For comparison, Peshawar have four.
Shaheen Shah Afridi has tried to hide this weakness by taking on more responsibility with the bat, and promoting himself up the order, but a more viable solution needs to be found.
Take early wickets: When you have Shaheen in your team then there is a good chance that you will get some early wickets. When you can also call upon Haris Rauf and Zaman Khan in the powerplay then early wickets are usually given. They failed to do that against Multan though and eventually paid the price as it set up a platform for the likes of Keiron Pollard to tee off later on.
They cannot afford to do so again, especially against Babar and Saim Ayub. The opening pair has been the outstanding batting duo of the tournament and occupy positions two and six respectively in the top-scorers’ chart. They got Peshawar off to a blistering start against Islamabad with 60 off only 4.4 overs while their last three partnerships before that were 107, 162 and 134. How Peshawar’s innings start may well be the most pivotal detail in how this match finishes.
Assess conditions better: Shaheen has rightly earned a lot of plaudits for his captaincy, having guided Lahore to a maiden title last year and leading the side wonderfully this time around as well. The left-arm pacer clearly has an exceptional cricketing brain that is beyond the ordinary, yet he and his side failed to come to terms with the conditions at the Gaddafi.
Shaheen kept searching for swing on a pitch that offered ample seam, continuously pitching the ball up and getting punished for it. The batsmen then failed to properly respect the pitch and didn’t give themselves the time they required to get used to the conditions as Lahore were dismissed inside 15 overs. A similar collective brain fade can see the defending champions get knocked out at the penultimate hurdle.
The author is a freelance journalist
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