It will be a contest between the never-say-die spirit of Quetta Gladiators against the valour of Peshawar Zalmi in the final of the Pakistan Super League in Lahore on Sunday (March 5), with a full house at the Gaddafi Stadium and millions in the terror-hit country hoping the event happens safely.
If a trophy is given on popularity alone, Peshawar would have walked away with the silverware as the Pathan expats who are primarily engaged in manual labour in the United Arab Emirates thronged the stadiums in Sharjah and Dubai whenever their team was in action.
The Pathans are the inhabitants of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), of which Peshawar is the capital. But come Sunday, they will miss their Shahid Afridi, their talismanic heartthrob, who injured his right hand in the play-off against Karachi Kings on Friday. Afridi has been advised a ten-day rest and was ruled out of the final.
While security in the aftermath of two blasts in Lahore last month remains in focus throughout the next two days, the on-field action promises a thriller with both teams involved in a series of close matches in the two editions of the league.
Quetta edged out Peshawar in last year’s play-off by one run, and repeated the same nail-biting finish by the same margin this year. In head-to-head clashes, Quetta lead by three matches to two with one match rained off.
If Peshawar will miss Afridi, Quetta will be without their key foreign players – notably Kevin Pietersen who had 241 runs in the tournament but withdrew from the final on security fears, as did the in-form Rilee Rossouw, Luke Wright and Tymal Mills.
Moin Khan, the coach, admitted it would be tough without their key players but hoped the replacement players would fill the gap.
“It’s tough to lose some key players,” said Moin. “All the players are professionals so I don’t see any problem but it will be important to gel in so that we can perform and win the trophy.”
Rossouw was even more successful than Pietersen, with 255 runs in nine matches.
Quetta’s replacements are Anamul Haque (Bangladesh), Sean Ervine and Elton Chigumbura (Zimbabwe), Rayad Emrit (West Indies) and Morne van Wyk (South Africa). They are all smaller in stature than the original players, but they will give the team much-needed back-up.
Peshawar have said their four foreign players — Dawid Malan and Chris Jordan from England and the West Indian duo of Darren Sammy – who is also the skipper of their team – and Marlon Samuels, would be available for the final.
Peshawar will also have an edge in both batting and bowling as their opener Kamran Akmal (313 runs in ten games) is the top run-getter in the PSL, while Malan (158 runs) and Mohammad Hafeez (77 in the last league game) are in good nick.
They also have a strong pace attack with Wahab Riaz (13 wickets), Hasan Ali (10 wickets) and Chris Jordan (seven wickets) complementing each other. Mohammad Asghar and Hafeez will care of the spin department.
Quetta will miss Mills, whose disguises in pace had been effective, particularly. They will hope his absence spurs their three left-arm spinners – Mohammad Nawaz, Hassaan Khan and Zulfiqar Babar – to greater feats.
Ahmed Shehzad, the opener, has anchored Quetta’s batting with 241 runs in nine matches while Sarfraz Ahmed will be key as both batsman and skipper as he has marshalled his troops admirably well.
The winner will received a cash prize of $US 600,000 and the runners-up will get $US 200,000. The team finishing third will get $US 100,000 with the fourth-placed one getting $US 50,000. The remaining part of the million-dollar prize money on offer – $US 50,000 – will be distributed amongst best individual players.