LAHORE: Multan Sultans have gone about their HBL Pakistan Super League title defence in near-perfect style, winning nine out of ten round-robin matches. Now, for a first crack at reaching the final, they square off in the Qualifier on Wednesday against Lahore Qalandars, the only team who have managed to hurt them so far.
After failing to defend more than 200 runs in the fixture during the Karachi-leg against the Sultans, the Qalandars knocked out Mohammad Rizwan’s men by 52 runs in the return leg at home.
In the Qualifier, with a noisy Lahore crowd behind the Qalandars, the Sultans — clearly the best side on paper — will have some work to do to book a place in the final on Sunday. The losing side will face the winners of Thursday’s first Eliminator between Islamabad United and Peshawar Zalmi in the second.
In both fixtures between the Qalandars and Sultans in the league round, flamboyant opener Fakhar Zaman was a stand-out performer for the former with innings of 76 and 60. Top of the run-scoring charts with 521 runs at 52.10, the southpaw will hold key for Shaheen Shah Afridi’s side, eyeing its maiden title.
The second and third highest run-getters though, are none other than the Sultans openers Mohammad Rizwan (479) and Shan Masood (457). The duo failed in their only loss, which shows how crucially their contributions will count.
While Lahore will rely on Shaheen’s impact with pace, Sultans will look up to the experience of South Africa leg-spinner Imran Tahir, who is the second-highest wicket-taker after United skipper Shadab Khan with 16 scalps in 10 outings.
All-rounder Khushdil Shah, with a wicket less than Imran, has also been a revelation for Rizwan’s side this season.
Qalandars, on the other hand, must be ruing losing their striker in Afghan leg-spinner Rashid Khan, who has left for national duty, after claiming 13 victims in nine outings.
Both teams are well-equipped with hard-hitting batters in their middle-order. Singaporean-Australian Tim David will be expected to launch huge sixes for the Sultans, while the Qalandars will rely on the more technical Englishmen Harry Brook and Phil Salt.
David has managed to score 251 runs at an average of nearly 42 with a strike-rate off nearly 200, while the 22-year-old Brook is averaging 69.33 in only seven matches, thanks to a 49-ball 100 against United.
Other pacers who can have an impact in the all-important fixture are Qalandars’ Zaman Khan and Sultans’ Shahnawaz Dahani, the highest wicket-taker of the previous edition.
Zaman has chipped in with few match-winning performances this season, taking 14 wickets – only behind Shaheen’s 15 as the best wicket-taking pacer in the tournament.Dahani, meanwhile, has 13 and is Sultans’ valued pace option after their spin duo.It’s a game that will be decided on small details. And both Sultans and Qalandars will hope their big-name players turn up for it.