Pakistanis may be divided on various issues within the country, but one thing transcends region, religion, ethnicity, age and political affiliation. That thing is cricket. It’s the most popular sport in the country, with heroes from the game independently going on to inspire generations. It unites the whole nation, and makes you forget about any political differences. That’s the value of cricket to Pakistan.
It’s an Eid of cricket in Karachi, a city of over 20 million cricket-mad people that hasn’t played host to a game of this magnitude for over nine years. Peshawar Zalmi are set to take on Islamabad United in a high-voltage PSL final at National Stadium Karachi – a venue set to host its first high-profile game since the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Test in February 2009. The game is billed as a homecoming, what with Pakistan’s biggest city having been deprived of major cricket for almost a decade.
The focus of the event has been the extraordinary security in the city, but there’s plenty to focus on as far as the cricket is concerned, too. Both teams have one PSL title to their name, with Peshawar being defending champions, while Islamabad won the inaugural edition in 2016. Both are presently at the top of their game and made their way to the final with some brutal displays with the bat. There seems to be no real weak link in either team, as both are laden with experienced batsmen from top to middle, and boast powerful bowling attacks.
The stadium has, over the years, largely been isolated, only hosting domestic cricket, but the infrastructure was put back together a few months before the game. The stadium is still under renovation, but the facility was prepared enough to make sure it was able to get going for the important game.
Peshawar Zalmi: WWWWL (last five completed games, most recent first)
Islamabad United: WLWWW
In the spotlight
The final is anticipated for its own merits as a contest, of course, but an absorbing mini-contest revolves around the dazzling form of each side’s wicketkeeper-batsman. Kamran Akmal and Luke Ronchi are both 36, have both been opening the batting, and presently sit at No. 1 and No. 3 on the PSL run charts with 424 and 383 runs respectively. Both are major reasons for their respective teams making the final this season. Both have exhibited extraordinary skill in power-hitting, and are brimming with the confidence, and will be at the forefront of their respective opposition bowling attacks leading into the game.
Despite safety concerns among foreign players overshadowing the games themselves, both teams have managed to retain the services of most of their best overseas players for the marquee game. This was in stark contrast to last year, when all of Quetta Gladiators’ foreign players pulled out while Peshawar Zalmi fielded a full-strength side.
Misbah ul Haq missed the Qualifier with a hairline fracture in his wrist. The 43-year-old has been struggling for fitness, and will miss the final. Islamabad are likely to stick to their combination from the Dubai game where they beat Karachi Kings by eight wickets with 45 balls to spare. One enforced change will be the absence of Alex Hales, who pulled out due to security concerns.
Islamabad United (likely): 1 Luke Ronchi (wk), 2 Sahibzada Farhan, 3 JP Duminy (capt), 4 Hussain Talat, 5 Samit Patel, 6 Asif Ali, 7 Chadwick Walton/Samuel Badree, 8 Shadab Khan, 9 Faheem Ashraf, 10 Mohammad Sami, 11 Amad Butt
Kamran Akmal has been playing despite a stiff neck and a hamstring niggle but with three days of rest before the game should have had enough time to regain his fitness. Peshawar are likely to retain their winning combination.
Peshawar Zalmi (likely): 1 Kamran Akmal (wk), 2 Andre Fletcher, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Saad Nasim, 5 Liam Dawson, 6 Darren Sammy (capt), 7 Chris Jordan, 8 Hasan Ali, 9 Wahab Riaz, 10 Umaid Asif, 11 Sameen Gul
Stats and trivia
Islamabad United and Peshawar Zalmi have the two best PSL win-loss ratios across three years. Islamabad have won 18 matches and lost 12, while Peshawar have won 19 and lost 13.
Islamabad’s Faheem Ashraf is the tournament’s leading wicket-taker, with 17 wickets at a strike rate of 12.7 and an economy rate of 7.72. Peshawar’s Wahab Riaz is breathing down his neck with 16 wickets at an economy rate of 6.86 and a strike rate of 17.2.