Unlike Islamabad United, Peshawar Zalmi’s journey to the final has been full of struggles. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ PESHAWARZALMI

In PSL’s ultimate showdown, the mind says Islamabad United, but the heart wants Peshawar Zalmi

Zalmi don’t have the ability or the lineup United has, but they do have the belief to overcome anything thrown at...

Hamza Junaid March 24, 2018
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 SamiSamit Patel and Faheem Ashraf, all of whom feature amongst the top wicket-takers in PSL 2018, with Ashraf leading the chart.

Luke Ronchi smashed the fastest fifty of the PSL, Islamabad United v Karachi Kings, qualifier, PSL 2018, Dubai, March 18, 2018. Photo: Pakistan Super League

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.

Asif Ali is congratulated by Luke Rochi upon catching Kumar Sangakkara, Multan Sultans v Islamabad United, PSL 2018, Dubai, February 25, 2018. Photo: Pakistan Super League

Hussain Talat celebrates victory with Misbah-ul-Haq. Photo: Pakistan Super League

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.

Kamran Akmal soaks in the applause, Lahore Qalandars v Peshawar Zalmi, PSL 2018, Sharjah, March 16, 2018. Photo: Pakistan Super League

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?

Darren Sammy celebrates a wicket, Quetta Gladiators v Peshawar Zalmi, Sharjah, March 1, 2018. Photo: Pakistan Super League

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.

Go Zalmi!
Hamza Junaid The author is an avid cricket follower and plays for a team called Gladiators based in New York. He tweets as @hamza_junaid1 (https://twitter.com/hamza_junaid1)
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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Sufiyan | 2 years ago | Reply | Recommend I don't think many believed in these two teams making it to the final. Quite honestly they still don't believe it. Just like every year, the two "big franchises" started the tournament as favorites. Karachi Kings was an overhyped team with no real talent in the squad and where they ended up in the tournament comes as no surprise. It's good to see local talent line Asif Ali, Hussain Talat and Kamran Akmal performing for their respective teams. You are spot on in saying that United planned for the tournament much better than any other team and invested in players who were not big stars but had a lot of potential. Go United!
Hamza Junaid | 2 years ago The hype surrounding Karachi and Lahore is more out of the desire to see these two cities play a final rather than the team combinations they have. Both teams have big media houses promoting them as well but in reality they never picked a stable lineup. Asif, Talat and Kamran all have a chance to have a crack at the T20 side although for Kamran the chances are less considering the coach wants to move on and Kamran's fielding skills weaken his case as well.
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