When the Pakistan Super League V came to a shuddering halt midway through last March, nobody would have predicted then that the conclusion of the franchise-based Tweny20 competition could throw up a dream final here on Tuesday between two teams — Karachi Kings and Lahore Qalandars — with very high reputations and expectations but much less achievements.
Prayers of countless ones have been answered at last and Karachi Kings captain Imad Wasim aptly said on Monday: “Dream final has been talk of the town even before the playoffs began, and here we are about to realise that dream of not our two teams but the huge following from every nook and corner.
The most alluring aspect of PSL is that each edition had provided different matchups in the title-decider, meaning no two same sides have confronted each other for the trophy in any of the five seasons. Two-time champions Islamabad United upstaged Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi, respectively in the finals of 2016 and 2018; Peshawar prevailed over a depleted Quetta to be crowned winners in 2017 before Quetta extracted sweet revenge by defeating Peshawar in the 2019 finale.
But this will be the biggest final in terms of rivalry because both Karachi and Lahore have a rich history on sporting fronts over the years at the domestic level, particularly in the period from 1960s onward until the late 1990s. So when the PSL was finally launched after a spate of hiccups, the cricket diehards were expecting both Karachi and Lahore to reignite the enthusiasm of yesteryear. And yet somehow, they only flattered to deceive the millions of fans of the country’s largest two cities.
“For sure, there is a lot for Karachi Kings to do in order to make their supporters smile after all those near misses. The expectations are very high and adrenaline is already flowing in both camps.
“Our ardent fans have all waited patiently for four years to see us in the final and same has happened to Lahore as well. They have a massive fan-base which is always behind Lahore Qalandars.”
Sohail Akhtar, the unheralded Lahore Qalandars skipper, paid tribute to the franchise owners for keeping faith with Aaqib Javed as the head coach from day one despite the team ending up at the base of the standings in every season.
“They have to be appreciated for sticking with Aaqib Bhai all through the tough times we had to endure. All these years, the management kept backing us and the backroom staff. The environment, understandably, was tense on occasions but the self-belief within the ranks kept us going.
“Honestly speaking, we are not to let fans down this time and the way we have come through the playoffs is a clear sign of the wonderful camaraderie among all [team]members. Our confidence is high and we’ll compete and compete well tomorrow [Tuesday]. The players just cannot wait for the final to begin and are raring to go.”
Ideally, Lahore Qalandars would have felt more at home if the playoffs had not been moved out of the smog-filled Lahore to Karachi but there is no major difference for either them or Karachi Kings, barring of course the franchise owners who always have a lot at stake, more so in this derby clash.
But whoever wins the title this time will have a drastically shunted span of about three months or so to rejoice — and keep hold of the coveted trophy — before the sixth edition kicks off in February, chiefly because of the PSL V being split up by the long eight-month break due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sohail conceded the usual enthusiastic support of their vocal fans will be conspicuously missing because of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, forcing the organisers to hold the four-match playoffs behind closed doors.
“Obviously, we’ll miss our wonderful supporters whose presence always serves as an inspiration. But the situation the entire country is facing now is not in our hands. Playing in a bio-secure bubble setup is quite tough. However, we all know that the fans will be all backing us through the social media and on TV when they watch the final,” Sohail said.
Lahore’s talisman David Wiese — who has been instrumental in making the generally smiling team owner Fawad Rana’s dream come true — made a valid observation during Sunday’s post-match conference after receiving man-of-the-match award for his priceless all-round efforts — a 21-ball 48 not out and bowling return of 3-27 — when the former South Africa international said it would benefit the team more if they concentrated on enjoying the moment of reaching the goal.
“Expecting both these teams to make the final was something on the cards when the tournament got to this stage and everyone talked of a dream final. It would have been perfect if we had a packed house to enjoy the game but unfortunately, as we all know, that can’t happen for reasons everyone understands.”
Imad, in the meantime, admitted Karachi Kings were fortunate to be in the final after they won the Qualifier through the one-over eliminator.
“We were very lucky to win that game in the Super-Over. Credit to [Mohammad] Amir for delivering a great over to get us over the line. Everyone, including the media, are calling Karachi Kings as the underdogs in the final,” Imad pointed out. “We don’t mind being called as the underdogs because as captain I also agree to an extent that we are the underdogs.
“But when you are playing a final it changes the scenario completely. Everything then depends on how you play on the given day. Getting to this stage is a bit surreal since we have not been here before. Come Tuesday, Karachi Kings will be ready for Lahore Qalandars, who have played excellent cricket to make it to the final.”
One key factor that could eventually make the difference between winning and losing will be the all-important toss. Batting in second half under lights has been relatively easier because of the onset of dew from 9:30pm onwards. Both captains will surely prefer bowling first upon winning the toss. But Karachi Kings do have a decisive advantage because their playing XI includes the Pakistan all-format skipper Babar Azam, widely regarded as one of the world’s finest batsmen in all forms.
KARACHI KINGS: Imad Wasim (captain), Babar Azam, Sharjeel Khan, Alex Hales, Iftikhar Ahmed, Chadwick Walton, Sherfane Rutherford, Wayne Parnell, Mohammad Amir, Waqas Maqsood, Arshad Iqbal, Cameron Delport, Mohammad Rizwan, Umaid Asif, Usama Mir, Awais Zia, Aamir Yamin, Umar Khan.
LAHORE QALANDARS: Sohail Akhtar (captain), Fakhar Zaman, Tamim Iqbal, Mohammad Hafeez, Ben Dunk, Samit Patel, David Wiese, Mohammad Faizan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Dilbar Hussain, Haris Rauf, Usman Khan Shinwari, Abid Ali, Farzan Raja, David Vilas, Maaz Khan, Jaahid Ali, Salman Irshad.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pakistan) and Michael Gough(England).
TV umpire: Ahsan Raza (Pakistan).
Match referee: Mohammad Anees (Pakistan).