Peshawar Zalmi will contest Quetta Gladiators in the final of this year’s Pakistan Super League in Lahore on Sunday after a 24-run win over Karachi Kings in the third Qualifying Final at Dubai International Stadium on Friday night.
Peshawar was hoping to avenge defeat at the same stage of last year’s tournament when Sharjeel Khan’s century put them to the sword.
Like then, Peshawar went into the match after defeat to Quetta in the first qualifier but this time it was the men in yellow inspired by a centurion of their own.
Kamran Akmal’s superb hundred fuelled the Peshawar charge after being put into bat, forming first a 97-run opening partnership with Dawid Malan (36) and then a 77-run stand for the second wicket with Marlon Samuels (37*).
Akmal eventually departed in the final over, attempting a suicidal second run, his innings bringing the sell-out Dubai crowd to their feet in appreciation.
It was the continuation of Akmal’s resurgence, which has seen him score two half centuries for Zalmi this seaso.
His latest knock was that of a big game player standing up and being counted when his team needed him to. Coming from just 65 balls, Akmal’s 104 included six fours and seven sixes, as Peshawar posted a healthy 181-3 from their 20 overs.
The Karachi response wobbled in just the second over, Babar Azam falling to Chris Jordan to leave them 2-1 and on the ropes.
Next man Kumar Sangakkara wasn’t to last long, top edging Wahab Riaz to Samuels for 15 to leave Karachi 19-2 and their hopes of reaching Sunday’s final teetering.
Just two balls and no runs later Karachi dreams faded further as Shoaib Malik was held superbly by Mohammad Hafeez at mid-on for a golden duck, handing Jordan his second wicket.
The revolving door at the opposite end to Chris Gayle kept spinning, Ravi Bopara the next to depart for just six and Karachi 39-4 by the time Kieron Pollard entered the picture.
Gayle raced from two from 15 balls to 27 from 24, taking a particular liking to Shahid Afridi by launching the Peshawar all-rounder into the stands three times in his first two overs.
If Karachi were to advance they needed the kind of devastating innings that have made Gayle the most successful player in the history of T20 cricket and Pollard; Karachi’s go-to man this season.
It wasn’t to be for Gayle, Wahab bowling the West Indian for 40 from 31 balls with a sumptuous slower ball yorker.
The onus shifted to Pollard to fire his side to victory once more and he certainly relished the challenge, launching three enormous sixes en route to taking the required total to 71 runs from the final six overs.
Unfortunately for Karachi, not even Pollard could rescue them this time around.
The online tickets too were sold out within a few hours, amid reports of clashes in parts of Lahore.
Some 5000 tickets were reportedly put on sale.
Punjab Bank branches had been designated to sell the tickets. However, there were complaints that the banks received only a few hundred tickets valued at Rs 500. Fans accused bank officials of keeping the tickets for themselves. Only those valued at Rs 4000 were available, which also ran out in a few hours.
Long queues were seen in banks across the city. In the Gulberg Main Boulevard area, protesters broke the glass window of the bank when told they were out of luck.
“We have been standing in queues since early morning, but after just two hours we were told that tickets are sold out,” Ahmed Ali told Dawn TV in Lahore.
Pakistan has not hosted international cricket since 2009, except for a short limited overs series against Zimbabwe in May-June 2015, leaving fans desperate.
The country was avoided by international teams since the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore on March 3, 2009.
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.