In PSL’s ultimate showdown, the mind says Islamabad United, but the heart wants Peshawar Zalmi
For three consecutive seasons, I have supported Peshawar Zalmi in the Pakistan Super League (PSL). And for three consecutive seasons, my sibling has supported Islamabad United. Throughout every tournament, we have shared banter at the expense of the other’s team; however, Sunday’s final in Karachi will prove to be the ultimate showdown.
Clearly, there is a lot riding on the final. Watching your team win the trophy is well and good, but nothing is greater than winning the rights to mock your sibling for the rest of the year.
I have my jokes lined up, but for me to use them, Zalmi will have to overcome the impeccable lineup gather by United. The players selected by United seem to have been handpicked with such perfection that each player fits in the team like the missing piece in a jigsaw puzzle.
United’s batting lineup is rock solid. It starts off with Luke Ronchi’s fireworks, and even I am not sure where it ends. Their bowling, on the other hand, doesn’t offer any comfort to the opposition either. It includes Mohammed Sami, Samit Patel and Faheem Ashraf, all of whom feature amongst the top wicket-takers in PSL 2018, with Ashraf leading the chart.
While some franchises spent a lot of energy on promoting themselves as the “biggest franchise” on social media, United simply accumulated the perfect mix of players in their squad. While others were focused on acquiring the big names during the draft, United invested in the likes of Asif Ali and Hussain Talat, and worked to make them the next big names. While others complained to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) about their players not travelling to Pakistan, United ensured they chose players who were willing to travel here in the first place. In hindsight, United’s place in the final can simply be pinned down to some brilliant planning and the right priorities.
The results of their successful strategy were evident in the group stages, as United wiped out one competitor after another, to become the only one left sitting comfortably at the top of the table. Their eliminator round was no different, as they put the Karachi Kings’ arrogance at being the “biggest franchise” to rest.
If I had a penny for every time Bazid Khan called the Kings the “biggest franchise” on air, I would be a millionaire. They almost had a lucky escape in the second eliminator, as rain in Lahore made it likely the match would be cancelled. However, the men in uniform had some other plans in store. An army chopper was called into the Gaddafi stadium to dry the outfield. Sounds insane? Well this is PSL, ladies and gentlemen – expect the unexpected!
Unfortunately for the Kings, their second shot at qualifying for the final did not go down well either. Like a punching bag, they took repeated blows from Zalmi after United had taken its turn. Kamran Akmal smashed Karachi’s bowlers to all sides of the park, until there were no signs of life left in them. It was a horror show, and sadly for Shahid Afridi, due to an injury, he had to watch from the sidelines as his newly adopted team received a thrashing from his former teammates in Zalmi.
Unlike United, Zalmi’s journey to the final has been full of struggles. From almost getting disqualified in the group stages, they have somehow managed to limp, crawl and drag themselves into the final. They don’t have the lineup United does, nor do they have similar dominating performances backing them.
However, what Zalmi does have is belief – the belief to overcome anything thrown at them. And why shouldn’t they, when they are led by a man like Darren Sammy?
The inspiration Sammy brings to Zalmi is unmatched by any other captain in the history of PSL. It’s easy to forget he is a foreign player at times, since he blends in with the local culture and plays his heart out for his team. It doesn’t even matter if Zalmi go on to win the trophy or not; watching Sammy unite the team and come to the rescue each time his team was on the verge of exit has been a treat to watch in itself.
Sunday’s final is not a contest of who has the stronger lineup, because on paper there is no match – United is the clear winner.
The beauty of the T20, however, lies in its unpredictability. All it takes is one player to have a memorable night and snatch the game away from the opposition. Akmal has had several memorable nights so far in this year’s PSL, and if he can just pull one more out of the bag this Sunday, it would definitely give United a run for their money.
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