Karachi, Lahore renew rivalry for berth in PSL 2020 final
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The biggest inter-city rivalry in the country will come alive once again as Gaddafi Stadium will stage the second semi-final between arch-rivals Karachi Kings and Lahore Qalandars.
After a high-octane double round-robin league, which was embellished by scintillating on-field performances, four teams will be vying for the two berths for the final of the HBL Pakistan Super League 2020 when the two semi-finals are played at Gaddafi Stadium, Pakistan’s home of cricket, on Tuesday, 17 March.
This year’s edition has brought forward two new contenders for the coveted title as Multan Sultans and Lahore Qalandars have gone beyond the group stage for the first time in the history of the event.
In the first semi-final, Sultans will face Peshawar Zalmi, the 2017 edition’s winners and two-time runners-up, at 2pm, while the biggest rivalry of the event will be ignited once again when Karachi Kings and Qalandars play in the second semi-final, which will commence at 7pm.
Prior to this edition, only three teams – Zalmi, Quetta Gladiators and Islamabad United – had featured in the HBL PSL finals, which mean that there will be at least one new finalist in the 18 March title showdown.
The two teams are locked at 1-1 in this edition after defeating each other on their home grounds. Qalandars secured a comprehensive eight-wicket win against Kings at Gaddafi Stadium and Kings avenged it with a commanding 10-wicket win at the National Stadium.
That the semi-final line-up was decided on the very last group match was largely due to Lahore Qalandars, who have progressed beyond the group-stage for the first time after four attempts. Qalandars finished at the third spot, while Karachi Kings were ranked second at the completion of the group-stage.
It was their three consecutive wins in the middle-phase of their HBL PSL 2020 campaign which gave Qalandars’ the hope of their qualification to the next round and that it happened was due to the thunderous bat of Ben Dunk – who has smashed 23 sixes this tournament, the most for any batsman.
Dunk leads Qalandars’ batsmen with 266 runs at an impressive average of 53. But it is his blazing strike rate of 186 which makes him a nightmare for the opposition bowlers. The Australian batsman has struck two half-centuries – against Quetta Gladiators and Kings (93 and 99 not out) – and that both have come at the Gaddafi Stadium will be a concern for Kings.
What augurs well for Qalandars is the fact that Fakhar Zaman and Sohail Akhtar have picked form at the right time. In his last three matches, Fakhar has scored two half-centuries, both coming at the Gaddafi, while Sohail’s last four scores are 68 not out, 21, 68 and 19 not out.
Samit Patel has played an integral role for Qalandars in keeping the opposition’s batsmen quiet in the Powerplay overs. His four for five against Quetta Gladiators was his best bowling performance in T20 cricket to date and the Qalandars will be hoping for him to repeat the heroics.
Shaheen Afridi continues his impressive run with the ball and is the highest wicket-taker for Qalandars – and second highest overall – with 13 wickets at an average of 19.
Lahore Qalandars captain Sohail Akhtar said: “I am very happy with how the team has performed over the course of this tournament and the whole unit is motivated and ready to perform. A semi-final is always a big match, but there is no extra pressure on us because of the fact that we are playing against Karachi Kings. All teams that have progressed this far are quality sides. Though we have chased well, but I believe our strength lies in bowling.”
Kings are bolstered by the presence of Babar Azam at the top of their order. The top-ranked T20I batsman has been in red-hot form with 345 runs at an average touching 50. He has smashed three half-centuries.
The fact that Sharjeel Khan smacked 74 not out against Qalandars and followed it up with another man-of-the-match award winning performance against United late last week will have all the Kings fans excited. Whether Qalandars’ bowlers will be able to penetrate Kings’ batting lineup will keep fans in both cities anxious and glued to their TV sets right from the first ball.
Kings captain Imad Wasim, however, will rely heavily on Mohammad Amir to provide him early breakthroughs. The left-arm pacer has been the highest wicket-taker for Kings with 10 wickets at an average of 26.
Arshad Iqbal, Kings emerging category pick, has raised his hand when the situation has demanded and over the past three matches his figures have been 2-15, 1-13 and 2-37 – except for the last match, Kings have come out victorious.
Karachi Kings captain Imad Wasim said: “Lahore Qalandars are a very good side and there are no doubts about that. We have plans for them and we just have to execute them. After all, at the end of the day it is just a game of cricket. I am very confident as we have the desired firepower in both bowling and batting departments and we have players who can adapt to all conditions. For me, it is a big moment to be leading Karachi Kings, who are a big franchise, against Lahore Qalandars in the semi-final.”