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HBL Pakistan Super League: Qalandars take second shot at title against high-flying defending champions Sultans

HBL Pakistan Super League: Qalandars take second shot at title against high-flying defending champions Sultans

LAHORE: Lahore Qalandars are not used to making it to the HBL Pakistan Super League playoffs, but when they do, they end up playing the grand finale.

In the 2020 season, they finished third in the round-robin stage before losing the final against Karachi Kings at the National Stadium in Karachi.

The match was played behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 outbreak which forced the tournament to be split in two phases.

This season, led by Pakistan pace bowling spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi, the Qalandars managed the second spot in the league round and will play the final against Multan Sultans on Sunday, after emerging winners in a nail-biting Eliminator 2 against Islamabad United on Friday.

The venue, however, will be the Gaddafi Stadium here and that too fully occupied by spectators, almost all of whom will be expected to be behind the Qalandars, their home side.

Both teams have won once each playing against each other at the venue this season.

The Qalandars were triumphant against the Sultans in the round-robin stage — the former becoming the only team to beat the defending champions this season — while the Sultans struck back in the Qualifier on Wednesday to make it to the all-important decider.

The Qualifier saw the Qalandars struggle with the bat while chasing and their batting line-up collapsed after they lost Harry Brook, and most importantly their talisman Fakhar Zaman in quick succession right after the Strategic Timeout, taken after the 13th over.

By that point, Fakhar was flying high after launching an onslaught against the Sultans’ strike spinners Imran Tahir and Khushdil Shah before pacers Shahanawaz Dahani and David Willey finished the Qalandars off.

In Eliminator 2, the Qalandars had to fight it hard till the very end but this time, they looked less dependent on in-form Fakhar, who departed in the first over.

David Wiese, who struck 27 runs to help the Qalandars to 168-7 and prevented United from scoring the required eight runs in the last over, was the hero of the match.

Top-order batters Abdullah Shafique and Kamran Ghulam too chipped in with crucial runs to help the Qalandars fight back after losing early wickets. Ghulam was also electric in the field and so was pacer Haris Rauf, who also took the all-important wicket of United’s opener Alex Hales.

The Sultans will come into the final with utmost confidence, especially after how they countered the Qalandars in the qualifier.

Nearly all their top players have proven their match-winning ability during the tournament under Mohammad Rizwan’s inspirational captaincy. The Pakistan wicket-keeper/batter, who was named the ICC T20 Player of the Year last month, has not only shone as a leader but as batter as well.

The right-hander is the second-highest run-getter this season after Fakhar with 532 runs at a fabulous average of 76.00. The third in the batters list is Shan Masood with 459.

Sultans’ spinners Khushdil and Tahir and pacer are third and fourth and fifth, respectively in the bowling charts with 16 wickets each. Qalandars’ skipper Shaheen (17) and pacer Zaman Khan (16) are second and sixth but the Lahore outfit will have to do it all over again without their main spinner Rashid Khan.

The Afghan leg-spin sensation is on international duty for the ongoing series in Bangladesh. According to some reports which emerged early on Saturday, the Qalandars tried to arrange a chartered flight for Rashid to make him available for the final before the effort fizzed out due to obvious logistical issues.

Although it was outrageous on the Qalandars’ part to even think about the possibility, it is understandable for a team playing the final to want a bowler who has claimed 13 victims in nine outings at just 17.30.

Shaheen will have to rely on the more orthodox Mohammad Hafeez, specially with the number of left-handers in the Sultans side. The other option is also a veteran in Samit Patel.

Warhorse Hafeez was exceptional with the ball in the Qualifier, conceding just 16 in his four overs while also dismissing Shan. But with the bat, he remains a liability with an average of just above 24 in 12 innings, and will definitely be expected to finally contribute when it’s needed the most on Sunday.

For the Sultans, Singaporean-Australian power-hitter Tim David is likely to return for the final after recovering from coronavirus. The big right-hander has averaged above 40 in 12 outings and scored at a strike-rate of more than 199.

South African southpaw Rilee Rossouw also remains a force to reckon with for the Qalandars’ bowling attack as he looks to finish with the HBL PSL trophy what has been a terrific season for him with the bat.

While Multan Sultans ride on their highly-professional style, Lahore Qalandars will rely on some bright, young talent, and, obviously, the roaring, jam-packed Gaddafi Stadium stands.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2022

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