2020 has been a very surprising year in all the fields. There were surprises and shocks everywhere in the world. Pakistan Super League was no different, as two of the most unpredictable teams managed to reach the final.
Lahore Qalandars had been lowest ranked team in all the editions of Pakistan Super League from 2016 to 2019. Although they had T20 super stars like Ab De Villiers, Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum and Sunil Narine, but they could not manage to break the deadlock and finished last for 4 consecutive seasons.
This year they did not have any International superstar like previous years. There was Ben Dunk, who had not represented Australia in International cricket since 2017. They had South Africa’s 35-year-old veteran David Wiese, who last played for his International team in 2016. There was another former English cricketer Samit Patel, who had represented England since 2013 in T20I.
Lahore Qalandars got off to a slow start once again in the 2020 edition. In the opening match, they were beaten convincingly by Multan Sultans by 5 wickets. The batsmen did not impress at all as they managed only 138 in 20 overs. The second match was even more disappointing for Lahore Qalandars, as they were so close to the victory, but lost to Islamabad United by just 1 wicket. Muhammad Hafeez scored 98 and Shaheen Shah Afridi picked 4 wickets, but those world class performances were still not even enough to open their account. Everyone was expecting Lahore Qalandars to finish last in the tournament once again, as they lost third match to Peshawar Zalmi by 16 runs, after the match was reduced to 12 overs due to rain.
The fourth match was against defending champion Quetta Gladiators led by Sarfaraz Ahmed. Many were counting Qalandars out of the race already. The match was following the same script once again. There were many expectations from ppeners Fakhar Zaman and Chris Lynn, but they failed. The backbone of team Muhammad Hafeez got out for a duck. They were losing hope once again with Ben Dunk and Samit Patel on crease. But then 2020 happened and things started changing dramatically.
The former International cricketers started bashing Quetta bowlers all over the park. Muhammad Nawaz was hit for 4 consecutive sixes by Ben Dunk. Talented youngsters like Muhammad Hasnain and Naseem Shah could not escape the wrath of Dunk and Patel. The Australian finished innings with score of 93 off just 43 balls whereas Patel assisted him perfectly by scoring 71 off 40 balls.
Quetta were bowled out for 172, handing Lahore their first win of the season. And there was no stopping for Lahoris after that. Ben Dunk showed another promising performance against Karachi Kings, once again ending up in 90s. Although he could not score century in both matches, but his ruthless batting helped Lahore Qalandars reach playoffs for the first time.
There was a set-back for Lahore Qalandars when PSL 5 restarted after 8 months in November, as Chris Lynn, who had scored century in the last match of group stage, refused to come to Pakistan due to commitment in Big Bash League, which is Australia’s league. But still two amazing performances in the play-off matches against Peshawar Zalmi and Multan Sultans helped them reach the final.
Now they are into the final for the first time, but up against the team, which is considered their arch rival. Lahore and Karachi are the biggest cities of Pakistan, and residents of both cities often indulge in city war on social media. And even in PSL, the story of both teams is no different.
Karachi Kings are also in the final for the first time like Lahore Qalandars. Unlike Lahore, they reach playoffs in all four editions but could not make the final match. This time final is being held in their home stadium, NSK, but there would not be any fans to cheer for them.
If both teams are compared, Karachi Kings seem to be stronger on the paper, as they have best Pakistani batsman Babar Azam, who remained World No.1 T20 batsman for almost 2 years and is still ranked at 2nd. Babar Azam is on top among the highest run scorers with 410 runs. But next 4 in the list are from Lahore Qalandars, Muhammad Hafeez (310), Fakhar Zaman (298), Ben Dunk (289) and Chris Lynn (284). This shows that Lahore Qalandars have been performing as a team and do not depend on one player.
When you compare the bowlers, on top of the list in Lahore Qalandars’ Shaheen Shah Afridi with 17 scalps. There are two more bowlers from Lahore Qalandars in the top 5 as David Wiese and Dilbar Hussain have picked 12 wickets each. Muhammad Amir is Karachi’s top wicket-taker with 10 scalps in 10 matches. But this does not show his class, something he showed in the super over against Multan Sultans in the play-off match. Although he could not pick any wicket in the match and super over, but he was economical and gave just 27 runs in 4 overs. And only 9 runs in all important super over while defending just 13 runs.
They have inexperienced bowlers like Arshad Iqbal and Umaid Asif, who do not have any International experience, but still there is Imad Wasim, the skipper of team and one of the most experienced T20 bowlers. Muhammad Amir and Imad Wasim definitely can give confidence to others and bring out the best out of them.
The winner city will definitely celebrate like they have won the Holy Grail, after the victory. The war on social media has already started with fans of both teams sharing memes and trolling the opponent team to have some psychological edge before the final. But the real battle will be in the ground and both teams have players, who can make the final very exciting.
Lahore Qalandars would be feeling like this is their first and last chance, as most of their players are veterans of cricket and may not be in same form when the next edition starts. The start will be very important and the team which will get lead in the start of the match, would be clear favourites, as coming back from down in such a pressure game is never an easy task.
Writer is a sports lover, who passionately watches Cricket, Football, Tennis and especially all sports featuring Pakistan. Previously worked for 4 mainstream channels Dawn, Samaa, Dunya and 92 News in past. Currently working with GNN.