It was all one grand vision, a masterplan that, five years on from the investment poured into it, has finally paid dividends. When the PSL was envisioned five years ago, former chairman Najam Sethi might have imagined one day a grand stadium being lit up to welcome Pakistan’s biggest rivalry in a big final, played out in front of 40,000 fans and millions watching on TV. Lahore vs Karachi would be a marquee occasion, one that elevated the status of the league to another level, and commanded interest not just from within Pakistan, but across cricket’s global T20 ecosystem.
Most of those plans looked like pipedreams at first. Getting foreign players to actually come to Pakistan was initially so onerous a task that players had to be paid for simply making the trip. It likely didn’t help that Lahore and Karachi were by some distance the worst two franchises in the league for the first two years, and neither of them made it to a final in the opening four seasons. The financial agreements between the PCB and the PSL always appeared poised on an uneasy precipice; just recently, the latest dispute resulted in the two parties ending up in court.
For a brief, glorious moment on what should be a cool Karachi evening, all those concerns will be swept under the carpet, like gnawing family disputes at a wedding reception. Half a decade on, the PSL will deliver what it was created to provide. Lahore Qalandars will face Karachi Kings in what is, by far, the biggest game in the league’s history, the dream final secured after Karachi’s Super Over win on Saturday, followed by two uncharacteristically efficient Lahore performances. There may be no fans at the National Stadium, but television sets around the country – perhaps even further beyond – will have eyeballs on them in record numbers as Pakistan’s two most storied cities rejoice in getting one over the other.
Narrative aside, there is a colossal cricket match to be won here, and the teams are intriguingly evenly matched. Karachi have generally had the wood over Lahore; their most recent meeting was a 10-wicket thrashing Lahore suffered at Karachi’s hands. However, Lahore appear to have momentum, as well as form on their side. They have, in Shaheen Afridi, the best bowler in the tournament in the form of his life, while Haris Rauf isn’t far behind. David Wiese is playing like a man inspired, while Mohammad Hafeez enjoys a late career surge. All that without even mentioning Ben Dunk, who is yet to fire in the playoffs. Karachi, though will remember his blistering onslaught from earlier this year, when a 40-ball 99 inspired Lahore to a stunning eight-wicket win over Imad Wasim’s side.
Karachi are perhaps less explosive, but, Saturday’s Super Over notwithstanding, somewhat more assured in the way they secured passage to the final. In Babar Azam, they have an opening batsman almost nailed on to get runs at the top of the order, with his opening partner Sharjeel Khan providing the fireworks. Throw in Alex Hales, and that makes for a lethal top three, with Wasim, as evidenced by that last-ball boundary, one of a handful who can chip in with vital runs down the order. Mohammad Amir finds himself in sensational form after shutting Multan Sultans out with perhaps the most perfect Super Over in history.
Karachi’s process against Lahore’s seemingly unstoppable momentum. The game needs no more billing than that.
In the spotlight
Both sides’ batting just doesn’t add up. It’ll get one of them through the playoffs to the title, but no side with these batting line-ups could go an entire league without eventually being found out. Both of them are at least a batsman light; Karachi almost found out to their cost in a spectacular collapse against Multan. The top three may be dynamite, but with Iftikhar Ahmed, Wasim, Chadwick Walton and Shane Rutherford to follow, there isn’t much of a back-up plan should they lose a few early wickets.
Lahore, meanwhile, have greater concerns in that department, which came to the brink of being exposed in both knockout games. Samit Patel and Wiese put up a 59-run stand on Sunday, and they were required to contribute to 42 and 41-run partnerships with Hafeez on Saturday. To Lahore’s relief, that last line of defence stood firm because there’s very little to follow; Muhammad Faizan is slotted in at No.8 followed by Afridi, Dilbar Hussain and Rauf. Add to this the somewhat unfancied Sohail Akhtar unconvincingly padding up at three and a somewhat unreliable Fakhar Zaman up top, and you wonder if Lahore are pushing their luck.
Lahore will go into the final unchanged if Afridi’s side strain, which forced him off the field for a while on Sunday, doesn’t hamper him.
Lahore Qalandars (probable): Fakhar Zaman, Tamim Iqbal, Sohail Akhtar (capt), Mohammad Hafeez, Ben Dunk (wk), David Wiese, Samit Patel, Muhammad Faizan, Dilbar Hussain, Haris Rauf, Shaheen Afridi
Karachi have the option of calling upon Cameron Delport to bolster their ranks in the middle though that would necessitate removing one of their overseas players from Saturday’s game.
Karachi Kings (probable): Sharjeel Khan, Babar Azam, Alex Hales, Iftikhar Ahmed, Chadwick Walton (wk), Imad Wasim (capt) Sherfane Rutherford, Wayne Parnell, Mohammad Amir, Waqas Maqsood, Arshad Iqbal
Pitch and conditions
The pitches prepared for the playoffs have been flat, though an 8pm start means dew will be a factor. Expect the side that wins the toss to bowl first.