Unfancied sides battle for top honours
Lahore Eagles v Sialkot Stallions, October 1, 1st semi-final, Karachi
Start time 1600 (1100 GMT)
Peshawar Panthers v Rawalpindi Rams, October 1, 2nd semi-final, Karachi
Start time 2000 (1500 GMT)
The 2011 Faysal Bank T20 Cup has thrown up a few surprises in the group stage of the competition, with pre-tournament favourites, Karachi Dolphins, and defending champions, Lahore Lions, both falling by the wayside before the semi-finals.
The draw had seemed to favour Karachi, who were in the same group as depleted teams such as Islamabad Leopards and Peshawar Panthers, but Twenty20 is the most fickle form of the game. Sialkot Stallions, the five-time-champions, are finally back in the spotlight after thumping Lahore Lions and Quetta Bears, while Rawalpindi Rams beat Faisalabad Wolves to extend their winning streak and ease into the semi-finals.
Most of the games have been played in front of just a few thousand spectators at the National Stadium in Karachi, but a couple of contests that involved the home team, led by Shahid Afridi, had close to overflowing stands. Karachi, though, did not make the semi-finals, and it remains to be seen how many fans turn up to watch the final few matches.
Watch out for …
Sialkot's 18-year-old Raza Hasan, a left-arm spinner who last appeared for Rawalpindi, has consistently been called up for the national side but has never been handed the opportunity to kick-start his international career. A good showing here could help his chances.
Out of favour Pakistan fast bowler Umar Gul, who is captaining Peshawar, also has a point to prove to win back his place in the national side.
In the absence of seasoned campaigners Naved-ul-Hasan and Abdul Rehman, Sialkot lost their way in 2010, but the pair are back this year and the team, led by Shoaib Malik, have set their sights on re-establishing their dominance in the format. "We were missing several key players for the last couple of events, but particularly with Rana [Naved-ul-Hasan] making his way back into the squad, and Raza [Hasan, who has shifted to Sialkot from Rawalpindi], we have good additions to our squad this year," captain Shoaib Malik told ESPNcricinfo. "We definitely have our sights on regaining our lost glory as former champions, but [right now] our focus is currently on the semi-final."
Rawalpindi are the defending champions and have responded well to the pressure of trying to retain their title, winning all three of their league games. Though they are a young side, they have not been overawed by the occasion and their strength in depth makes them a definite threat to repeat.
Stats and trivia
- Rawalpindi Rams and Lahore Eagles are the only teams with two batsmen aggregating over 100 runs so far in the tournament
- Sialkot Stallions' Sarfraz Ahmed's 4 for 13 against Hyderabad Hawks is the best bowling figures in the tournament
"It's all about the right combination. The Twenty20 format is a unique form of game that requires being on your toes all the way while batting or fielding and [the right] combination means a lot. You can't afford to be complacent with even a single ball."
Shoaib Malik, Sialkot Stallions' captain, on how important team selection is for a Twenty20 game
"We weren't one of the fancied teams going into this tournament, but we have shown that we are a match for any team in this competition."
Lahore Eagles coach Manzoor Elahi is unfazed at the prospect of playing Sialkot
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent