Foreign players soak in electrifying PSL atmosphere
The HBL Pakistan Super League 2020 has caught the imagination of some of the biggest stars of the crash, bang and wallop T20 format. All six participating teams have assembled mega stars of the game from around the world and with the league heading towards its business end, these players have expressed their joy at how enjoyable their stints have been with their respective sides.
While, Pakistanis have provided their traditional hospitality, the players have enjoyed tremendous support in the hugely competitive league where every run scored and wicket taken has to be properly earned by the players due to the high quality of talent available in each squad.
Defending champions Quetta Gladiators, two-time champions Islamabad United and 2017 champions Peshawar Zalmi are all locked in a fierce battle for three available play-off spots along with the two biggest franchises in terms of crowd support, Karachi Kings and Lahore Qalandars.
The only team so far to confirm their berth in the play-off is Multan Sultans with a tally of 11 points from seven games (five wins, one loss and one no-result).
Sultans’ all-rounder and England’s ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 winner Moeen Ali has felt the excitement and buzz of the HBL PSL especially in his side’s hometown Multan:
Moeen Ali said: “The atmosphere in Multan on all game days was unbelievable. You could clearly sense the passion the people have for their team and the game. We were particularly moved by the hospitality, love and support offered by the people of Multan who took ownership of the team and we are grateful to them for their incredible hospitality. With regards to the facilities, the stadium in Multan is one of the most beautiful from around the world and the pitches there were perfect for T20 cricket, offering something both for the batsmen and the bowlers. “We saw good quality cricket there, hopefully in the next year we will play all our home games in Multan.”
Second-placed Zalmi have had a mixed run in the tournament, however, the team continues to ride on a popularity wave across the country and have received frenzied support in Karachi, Multan, Lahore and Rawalpindi.
English batsman Liam Livingstone, who wore the Karachi Kings shirt in the HBL PSL 2019, is looking forward to the challenge of the all-to-play-for last week of the group stage under captain Wahab Riaz.
Liam Livingstone said: “Last few weeks have been crucial and it feels like we are gaining momentum at the right end of the tournament. You want to peak towards the end of the tournament, not at the start. So far, Wahab has been very good and it is a seamless transition from Daren Sammy (as captain). Wahab is a very relaxed character who has total confidence in his skill so he can lead from the front. The crowds have been excellent, most games have been packed and the support we have received from the Zalmi fans has been excellent. There is always a sea of yellow wherever we play, especially at Pindi where the atmosphere has been incredible. Hopefully that carries on for the rest of the tournament and fingers crossed for the play-offs.”
Currently placed third on the table, United have an uphill qualification task as they have just one group game left (versus Karachi Kings, 14 March). A win might not be enough for them to ensure their progress as they might have to rely on other results. United have been well served by their foreign stars so far with legendary South Africa fast bowler Dale Steyn thoroughly enjoying his return to Pakistan for the first time since 2007.
Steyn praised the untiring efforts of the Pindi Cricket Stadium ground staff, who put relentless efforts to get the games underway at the venue despite a heavy rain laden last week.
Dale Steyn said: “I’ve really enjoyed being back. The people have been so welcoming, I can just see it in their faces that they’ve missed having teams come play cricket here and are so excited by the presence of all the overseas players. The ground staff in Pindi was exceptional, getting us on the park with all this rain and allowing the fans to enjoy some cricket has been world-class. Hopefully we can repay the fans of Islamabad back with a good win in Karachi and possibly set us up for the finals.”
Karachi Kings also have a massive week coming up; the Karachi-based franchise will enjoy home support as they look to seal one of the four play-off berths. They play all three remaining games under the National Stadium’s floodlights.
Kings have one of the most formidable top-order in the tournament with the top-ranked T20I player Babar Azam, Sharjeel Khan and Englishman Alex Hales providing fireworks in the opening overs.
Hales is the top run-getter so far for Kings with a tally of 239 runs, which includes two half-centuries, at 59.75. The big-hitting right-hander is enjoying his batting stints with both Babar and Sharjeel.
Alex Hales said: “Having those two at the top of the order is a real strength of ours. The right-hand left-hand combo is very useful and they are both completely different players and hit the ball in different areas, which can be difficult for bowlers to adjust their plans every other delivery. We can’t wait to get back to Karachi, the support we had there are the start of the tournament was absolutely fantastic. I hope that it’s three more sold out crowds and they can give us that extra edge over our opposition. If we play how we know we’re capable of playing, we should qualify in the top two which is what we set out to do at the start of the tournament.”
Lahore Qalandars have come alive with back-to-back wins against Quetta Gladiators and Karachi Kings. They victories have propelled them to the fifth spot.
Batsman Ben Dunk has smashed sixes at will and has played an integral role in Qalandars’ turn with contributions of 99 not out and 93 in two out of the three Qalandars’ victories. His 23 sixes are so far the most by any batsman in the HBL PSL 2020.
Dunk has become a superstar in Lahore, the left-handed Australian big-hitter is humbled by the love and adulation he has received in his side’s hometown.
Ben Dunk said: “The crowd at the Gaddafi Stadium has been absolutely fantastic. With the tournament becoming even more exciting, the support for the teams, in fact the whole event, has grown manifolds with spectators getting even more impassioned about the game. The spectators at the Gaddafi Stadium have convinced me that at least in Lahore there is just one team to play for. I am really looking forward to the rest of the event, as we will give it our absolute all to ensure qualification in the play-offs especially since two of the play-off games are in Lahore including the final. Qalandars in the final will make for an unbelievable atmosphere.”
Defending champions Gladiators are enduring a slump and are at the risk of elimination before the play-off stage.
Currently languishing at the bottom of the table, Gladiators need to win both their remaining games (against Multans Sultans on 11 March and Karachi Kings on 15 March) to stand a chance of securing a top-four spot.
Batsman Shane Watson – the man of the tournament in the 2019 edition – will have a crucial role to play if Gladiators are to get over the line in the last two group games. Watson has termed the HBL PSL in Pakistan an ‘amazing experience.’
Shane Watson said: “It’s been amazing to play at all four venues in Pakistan. The stadiums in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Multan were filled to their capacities by passionate spectators. This is what the HBL PSL should be all about, inspiring the next generation to take up the game of cricket. We will do our best to win the last two games and book a place in the playoffs with an aim of fighting for our title till the very last.”
Seven group games are left out of which three will be played in Lahore, while Karachi’s National Stadium will host four. The play-offs commence from 18 March, while tournament’s last three games including the last two play-offs and final will be played in Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium.