Both Islamabad and Karachi enjoyed mixed campaigns to qualify for the play-offs with the two teams registering wins five wins and as many losses apiece from their 10 respective clashes.
Islamabad have made the most of a squad that bat deep with the likes of Hussain Talat, Asif Ali, Faheem Ashraf adding some substantial all-round depth.
Veteran opener and 2018 PSL top run-scorer Luke Ronchi has been key at giving the defending champions a rapid start at the top while Chadwick Walton has impressed since joining the side as a replacement player.
South Africa batsman Cameron Delport started the campaign poorly but has come into his own in the last three outings, with his record-breaking ton against Lahore Qalandars securing Islamabad’s ticket to the play-off.
While the batting unit is a formidable one, Islamabad’s bowling isn’t bad either with Faheem leading the way. The Pakistan all-rounder has had an incredible campaign which has seen him pick up 19 wickets and is behind only Hasan Ali (21) in the wicket-taking charts.
Shadab, meanwhile, has not been among the wickets but has maintained a healthy economy-rate of seven.
FAHEEM ASHRAF TAKES SIX WICKETS @iFaheemAshraf bowls @iShaheenAfridi and Lahore Qalandars are 175/8 in the 18th over now— Cricingif (@_cricingif) March 9, 2019
Ball-by-ball scorecard 👉 https://t.co/YtGW6X5svO #LQvIU #PSL2019 #KhelDeewanoKa #CricketForAll pic.twitter.com/PuJV7aIqBl
Karachi Kings, on the other hand, were the last team to secure play-off qualification with a dramatic one-run win over Quetta Gladiators. However, Imad Wasim and his men come into the Eliminator on the back of a crushing 61-run loss at the hands of Peshawar Zalmi.
Like Islamabad, Karachi too have a formidable batting unit at their disposal with three of their batsmen – Colin Ingram, Babar Azam and Liam Livingstone – featuring among the top-five run-scorers for the season.
However, the Kings have been hampered by a lack of consistency throughout the campaign and could have been in real trouble had Usman Shinwari not bailed them out in the one-run win over Quetta Gladiators.
The Pakistan pacer has been key in the bowling department for Karachi along with Mohammad Amir with both bowlers chipping in with 12 wickets each. Shinwari, however, has been really expensive with the ball and has gone at over nine runs an over.
Thankfully for the Kings, youngster Umer Khan has put his hands up in an impressive debut campaign which has seen him pick up 13 wickets including the dismissals of AB de Villiers, Shoaib Malik and Shane Watson (twice).
The 19-year-old left-armed spinner is turning out to be one of the finds of the season and is only behind the experienced Hasan Ali, Faheem and Sohail Tanvir in the wicket-taking charts.
In the two league meetings between Karachi and Islamabad, the latter emerged on top on both occasions by comprehensive margins. Can the Kings overturn that dominance when it matters most?
Islamabad United have been given a big boost with explosive England batsman Alex Hales joining up with the squad in Karachi after completing his international engagements against the West Indies.
The right-hander will certainly bolster the batting department and it would not be a surprise to see him feature on Thursday.
Islamabad United: Luke Ronchi (wk), Alex Hales, Cameron Delport, Chadwick Walton, Asif Ali, Hussain Talat, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Sami (c), Muhammad Musa, Rumman Raees.
Karachi Kings: Babar Azam, Colin Munro, Colin Ingram, Liam Livingstone, Ben Dunk (wk), Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim (c), Sohail Khan, Mohammad Amir, Umer Khan, Usman Shinwari.
The ongoing edition of the PSL has seen several young Pakistan pacers including Mohammad Hasnain, Muhammad Musa and Haris Rauf create an impression with their raw pace and accuracy.
Watson, who is currently leading the run-scoring charts in the 2019 PSL, has admitted his amazement at the steady rate at which young fast bowlers are emerging through the tournament.
“That is one thing that always comes up while playing in the PSL, even from my first year and it continued to be now. There’s always one or two fast bowlers who are bowling way above 140kph, pushing 150kph,” Watson told ESPNcricinfo in an interview.
“So every single game I go out and play, I know I have to be absolutely on my game, ready to go, otherwise I can get exposed and hurt facing these quick bowlers. It’s an incredible thing, the depth that Pakistan cricket has over any other country that I have ever played in – real and proper fast bowling. It’s amazing how they continue to come through.
The rise of Mohammad Hasnain:— Saj Sadiq (@Saj_PakPassion) March 8, 2019
Nov 17: Handpicked by Waqar Younis & chosen for PSL by IU
Feb 18: Ruled out of PSL due to injury
Sept 18: FC debut with PTV
Feb 19: Signed by QG as replacement for Naseem Shah
March 19: Bowls at 151kph during PSL
March 19: Picked for Pak ODI squad
“Now we’ve got (Mohammad) Hasnain here at Quetta who has come onto the scene and is bowling 150kmh, as it continues to happen every single PSL. So it’s pretty amazing.”
18-year-old Hasnain has picked up seven wickets so far for Quetta in five games in what is his maiden PSL campaign. The young pacer’s display has seen him earn a maiden call up to the Pakistan squad for the upcoming ODI series against Australia in the UAE.
Watson and Quetta, meanwhile, will be in action on Wednesday when they take on Peshawar Zalmi at Karachi in the Qualifier. The winner of the clash will progress to the final of the competition which will be held on March 17 at Karachi.
England T20 star players Alex Hales and Chris Jordan are set to bolster the playoff stage of PSL 2019.
Hales will turn up for Islamabad United in their Eliminator clash with Karachi Kings in Karachi on Thursday as his international assignment in the Caribbean with England is over.
Hales was par of the limited overs tour of West Indies and had a top score of 82 in the Guyana ODI. Hales’ decision to travel to Karachi is significant as he had earlier refused to tour Bangladesh over security concerns in 2016.
However, Hales has had a change of heart, first signing up for Rangpur Riders in the Bangladesh Premier League and now travelling to Pakistan to take part in the PSL.
Jordan, meanwhile, brings great form to the Zalmi side, having registered remarkable figures of 4-6 in the second T20 against the West Indies in Basseterre, dismissing the hosts for just 45. Jordan was part of the Zalmi side during the PSL in UAE before joining the England team in the Caribbean late last month.
171.29 Hazratullah Zazai— Mazher Arshad (@MazherArshad) March 12, 2019
164.57 Alex Hales
161.72 Luke Ronchi
Top three opening batsmen in terms of strike-rate in T20s in the last two years (min. 1000 runs). Two of them likely to open for Islamabad United in the playoffs. Pair to watch! #KhelDeewanoKa