Lahore Qalandars will meet Multan Sultans in the Pakistan Super League final today (Saturday), with an aim to become the first team to retain the title. But the opponent would be looking to pounce the defending champions like they did in the play offs.
For the third time, Shaheen Shah Afridi-led side made it to the finals of the T20 league after beating power-packed Peshawar Zalmi on Friday. They restricted the Babar Azam-led to a total of 171, which they chased in the second last over despite the fall of early wickets in the power play.
It would be history in the making if Qalandars win the PSL title—the only team to clinch the coveted trophy two years in a row.
Mohammad Rizwan’s Sultans, with their all-round performance, would be looking to maintain the consistency from the last time they faced Qalandars. Sultans reached the final after they beat Qalandars by 84 runs in the playoffs.
It would also be a moment to take revenge for last year’s final when the Qalandars thrashed them. Though their opponents lack match-winner Mohammad Hafeez this time, they have Sam Billings and Sikander Raza down the order to support the team.
“In the big games pressure is always there,” said Shaheen after making it through to the finals. “The team is up and ready for the final and would be looking to defend their title.”
This season, Qalandars topped the points table with seven victories out of the 10 matches followed by Sultans with six. Opening batter Fakhar Zaman has been an important player for his team, giving the boost to set a big total on tracks that have been batting-friendly this season. But many are sceptical about their strategy while going to chase a big total.
They have lost three out of four matches while batting second, the only victory they had was in the playoffs on Friday. Still, the franchise believes their picks from the player development programme (PDP) can bring them many laurels.
“We should celebrate PDP. You see two stars of PDP won this match. I still remember that time when Lahore continued to lose matches and we were criticised. Many used to make fun of PDP. We were called jokers. But I want to give credit to Aqib Javed for giving players to the country like Haris, Shaheen, Fakhar, Zaman, Tahir, and Ahsan Bhatti. This is our success,” Lahore Qalandars COO Sameer Rana said in a post-march press conference on Friday.
He went on to add that the work done by Lahore Qalandars was “unprecedented”. Rana praised Shaheen for leading the team like a “family”.
For Sultans, pacers Ihsanullah and Abbas Afridi have been star performers. They are the leading wicket-takers in the tournament.
Rizwan’s strategy to bring his best bowler Ihsanullah to pick key wickets to break the momentum has paid off. The Swat-born pacer is from the emerging category. While Abbas, another pick from the same category, has been bowling death overs.
They outnumbered their opponent in their last match as they bowled out Shaheen’s side for 76 while defending the 161 targets.
“Reaching a 3rd final in the last 4 years is an incredible achievement! May the best team win!” Sultans COO Haider Azhar tweeted after it was confirmed they would again meet Lahore today.