This is the story of Quetta Gladiators, the most spirited team in both editions of the Pakistan Super League (PSL), and appropriately described as “the Quetta family”.
Representing Balochistan, which is often described as the deprived province of Pakistan, Quetta Gladiators have won hearts and deservedly became the first team to qualify for the March 5 finale in Lahore. If they go on and win the title, it will be a victory for their spirit, dedication and never-say-die approach.
Bought at the lowest price of US$11 million, Quetta’s stocks rose with meticulous planning, ideal hiring and above all diligence.
Perhaps the biggest catch has to be the appointment of Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards, the original Master Blaster, as team mentor.
Like in his playing days, Richards has become the soul of this team as well, if only from the dugout. Every time the opposition loses a wicket, Richards jumps with joy. He is forever on the edge of his seat while a match is in progress. Each moment of high for the team results in him sharing high-fives with each and every member of the team in the dugout.
“The only thing I emphasise is for everyone to believe in their ability,” said Richards. “Belief is a strong word if you can understand how it can change your mentality, no matter what you face. So I try to work with the youngsters because they are the ones who need help as you can’t teach the likes of KP (Kevin Pietersen), who has achieved so much in the game.
“My mentality is that you win as a team and you lose as a team, and individuals shouldn’t be singled out. QG is a family. There is a strong bond among everyone. I have travelled the world and worked in different leagues but have never felt this kind of love and respect.”
Richards works well with Moin Khan, the team coach and former Pakistan captain. In many ways, Moin is the exact opposite of Richards, in that he provides the calming influence.
Like a good coach and guide, he has a clear view of everything. He is instrumental in providing the plan and ensuring that it is executed properly. In charge for the second successive year, Moin is eyeing a fine finish to their campaign, in Lahore.
“The spirit is good because I have learnt during my career from top captains and coaches that you have got to provide an easy and relaxed atmosphere to the players,” said Moin, who also coached Pakistan for a brief period in 2014.
“My theory is to keep players calm, not impose my plans on them and allow them to play their natural game, and that has been evident in both the editions. Since our mentor is very energetic, I try to remain calm to balance stuff,” added Moin.
“I don’t show my emotions much because then players start taking different messages from your body language.”
Nadeem Omer, the team owner, has been hands-off and lets team operations be run by Azam Khan, who also manages his club, Pakistan Cricket Club — a club which has produced Sarfraz Ahmed, Asad Shafiq, Anwar Ali, Rumman Raees and many others.
Great teams work as a unit and Quetta have done that. Omer said his team not only represented the spirit of the gladiators but also the people of Balochistan, of which Quetta is the capital.
“Viv is the role model,” said Omer. “I think because Twenty20 was not invented in his times, Viv is enjoying it even more. The biggest thing about him is that he doesn’t become Viv in the dugout, but makes other players feel like Viv Richards. He looks like a kid in the dugout, sharing high-fives with others.”
In the first edition, very few gave Quetta a chance, but they ended runners-up, registering some remarkable wins. The most memorable ones were when they beat fancied Islamabad United and then chased down a stiff 202-run target set by Lahore Qalandars with two wickets to spare in a thrilling last-ball finish.
It was the start of their show of self-belief. Quetta ousted Peshawar Zalmi, the most popular team, by one run to reach the final of the first edition, before running out of steam at the last hurdle, against Islamabad.
This season, they seemed to have picked up from where they left off. Restricted to a modest 136 by Lahore in their first match, Quetta hit back in style and bowled their opponents out for 128.
They marched past Karachi with consummate ease, lost to Islamabad but came back strongly to chase down Lahore’s 201-run target in the return clash. A narrow loss by one run to Islamabad, when they were given a taste of their own medicine, served as a wake-up call.
Then, although they lost their last league game to Peshawar, they came back strongly to avenge that defeat in the first playoff tie.
Peshawar were well and truly cruising with just 20 needed to win, four wickets in hand and three overs to come when Quetta roared back via Mohammad Nawaz. The left-arm spinner, defending seven in the last over, conceded five off the first three balls. What happened next was truly remarkable – Peshwar lost three wickets off the next three balls to go down by just one run.
Sarfraz Ahmed, Pakistan’s newly appointed ODI and T20I captain, leads the side from the front and has shown how much he has grown in stature. Results like the ones in the playoff have come to define his leadership skills.
“Every individual is ready to help the other,” said Sarfraz. “It would be great if we go on and win the final and then I would love to translate that same spirit into the Pakistan team.”
This article was written by Shahid Hashmi and originally appeared on Wisden India.
Quetta Gladiators etched their name in the 2017 PSL final thanks to a stunning one-run win in an exact replica of the same match in last year’s tournament.
Then it was Aizaz Cheema who defended seven in the final over with two wickets.
This time it was the same equation and same end result, Mohammad Nawaz going for five, taking the wicket of Chris Jordan and seeing both Wahab Riaz and Hasan Ali ran out as Peshawar somehow fell short once again on 199-9.
It was a remarkable turnaround for Nawaz whose four overs returned 3-51 but it was only his last that truly mattered.
For a sell-out crowd in Sharjah, it was just the contest they deserved as yet another of this year’s PSL matches went to the last over and last ball.
Quetta will now go on to contest this year’s final in Lahore on March 5, with the attention swiftly shifting on which of their foreign contingent will make the trip to Pakistan.
Among those faced with the decision are Kevin Pietersen, Luke Wright, Rilee Rossouw and Tymal Mills, who all featured on Tuesday night.
The tournament isn’t over for Peshawar, who will face the winner of Wednesday night’s second Qualifying Final between Islamabad United and Karachi Kings in Dubai on Friday to determine Peshawar’s opponents in the showpiece.
But they will take some picking up after the brilliant Dawid Malan, Mohammad Hafeez and Shahid Afridi put them in pole position until their stunning last over collapse.
The parallels with last year’s first Qualifying Final ran from start to finish, Quetta again put into bat first at the toss.
They were given a scintillating start by Ahmed Shehzad and Kevin Pietersen who maintained their inspired recent run of form.
Shehzad was in sublime touch, racing to 71 from just 38 balls and Pietersen was equally swift, hitting 40 from 22 balls as the pair put on 90 for the second wicket in six brisk overs.
But the pair’s departures rocked Quetta who, having raced to 132-3 inside the 12th over, went 39 balls without a boundary until Anwar Ali hit his first ball for four at the end of the 17th.
They should have coasted past 200 but instead finished up on 200-7, still a very good total but not one as daunting as they threatened earlier in the piece.
In response, Peshawar’s chase stalled from the off, Kamran Akmal and Marlon Samuels departing in just their second over.
Malan and Hafeez were charged with the repair job and it was slow going at 38-2 at the end of the powerplay but, crucially, no more wickets had perished.
The relaxed fielding restrictions also seemed to free Malan and Hafeez who gave their chase the urgency it craved.
They were relentless and for Hafeez, in particular, the innings was desperately needed after a combined 64 runs from his seven prior PSL innings this season brought widespread criticism for his own inclusion.
A raucous Sharjah crowd made their feelings clear, too, when the 36-year-old walked to the wicket to a smattering of boos in the most luke warm of receptions.
As the saying goes, you are only as good as your last innings and cricket fans can be a fickle bunch, proven by the adoring cheers directed at Hafeez as he put Quetta to the sword and, alongside Malan, charged towards their target.
Hafeez eventually departed for 77 to a standing ovation with his side in need of 59 from 37 balls and Afridi walking out to a feverish reception.
Malan would then succumb to Tymal Mills before Afridi took up the charge with 34 from just 13 balls but their hopes of victory evaporated once their talisman departed.
Karachi Kings once again live to fight another day in this year’s Pakistan Super League with a six-wicket win over Islamabad at Dubai International Stadium.
In a day dominated by rain in Dubai, Karachi progressed at the expense of Lahore Qalandars to set up a second Qualifying Final showdown in Sharjah on March 1 in a repeat of Sunday night’s match.
It means the first knockout fixtures are exact replicas of 2016, with Peshawar and Quetta meeting in the first Qualifying Final on Tuesday, March 28, also in Sharjah.
It was not until 8:30pm that the Islamabad squad, umpires and match referees reached the stadium but their arrival coincided with the cessation of the rain.
Karachi Kings had already been walking around the ground by then, probably hoping the rain would hold out, knowing that shared points was enough to guarantee their safe passage to the second Qualifying Final but defeat could see them crash out the tournament.
But they were made to earn their place in the next stage, a 15-over match finally getting underway at 9:30pm, a whole hour and a half after the scheduled start but a miraculous turnaround for a stadium deluged by the day’s persistent rain across Dubai.
That the game went ahead was testament to the superb work of head groundsman Tony Hemming and his team who lived up to their pre-match assurances that the pitch and outfield would need just half an hour to clear once the rain stopped.
Once play was possible, Karachi put Islamabad into bat, the reigning champions 123-7 thanks largely to leading run-scorer Dwayne Smith’s 49.
It meant Karachi needed a minimum of 111 in their chase to qualify and knock out Lahore Qalandars.
And Karachi were a team possessed in their run-chase, Chris Gayle finally showing something like his best form after being restored to the starting lineup with a punishing 44 from just 17 balls, an innings that included two fours and five sixes.
Kieron Pollard and Ravi Bopara then first saw their side over the 111-run threshold before sealing victory with a ball remaining to take yet more momentum into the knockout stages of the tournament.