Quetta run into in-form Islamabad for title
February 23, 2016
Start time 2000 local (1600 GMT)
Islamabad United v Quetta Gladiators. Buddha-esque Misbah-ul-Haq v restless Sarfraz Ahmed. Eccentric Dean Jones v street-smart Moin Khan. Strategic Wasim Akram against emotional Viv Richards. Powerful Andre Russell against an equally powerful Kevin Pietersen. Ever-confident Ahmed Shehzad v only PSL centurion Sharjeel Khan.
The above mini-duels within the main battle have all the portents to make the final a contest to look forward to. Both teams have taken a different route to the summit: Quetta did not break too much sweat during the league phase losing just two matches and became the first team to make the final. Islamabad took the more arduous route as they lost four matches in the group phase, but then bounced back with four consecutive wins.
If Quetta hold the edge on paper, it is only because they won both times the teams met earlier. On both occasions, Quetta successfully chased down the targets: they won the tournament opener with a whopping four overs to spare and a week later they won with 23 balls still in the bag.
However, both teams are back on the starting blocks for the final. Quetta were lucky to scamper into the final after their one-run win over initial and fans' favourites Peshawar Zalmi in the 1st Qualifying final. It once again exposed Quetta's reliance on their foreign imports Pietersen and Kumar Sangakkara. Of the two times they batted first, they collapsed the first time and then put up a sub-par total in the second attempt. Shehzad and Sarfraz will need to play responsibly if Quetta need to negate the in-form Islamabad bowling line-up.
For Islamabad, too, the runs have come mainly from the top order comprising Sharjeel, Dwayne Smith, Brad Haddin and, before he was forced out due to injury, Shane Watson. Although they have started well in the first 10 overs, Islamabad have shown the habit of not accelerating as much towards the end. Islamabad's run rate in the first 10 overs is 7.09 which is second only to Quetta. That rate climbs to just 7.83 in the final 10. The team has also had to deal with veterans Misbah, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Sami along with Andre Russell and Mohammad Irfan sitting out due to injuries.
The PSL had started with a maiden. The build-up might have been quiet but there have been quite a few last-over and last-ball thrillers. And Tuesday evening's finale, despite being a weekday, is sold out.
In the spotlight
Andre Russell said he is dying to raise his bat, raise his level of performance in the PSL where he has not exactly delivered. He is the joint second-highest wicket-taker, but has found it hard to bowl on the slow and sluggish pitches of Dubai. He has not clocked enough batting time as the Islamabad top and middle order have finished the job easily. Russell was the IPL's most valuable player last season, he won the Big Bash League with the Sydney Thunder, but was underwhelming in the final. Now, Russell has another opportunity and he is itching to prove why he is regarded as one of the biggest T20 assets across the world.
Mohammad Nawaz won the first Man-of-the-Match award of the PSL with his all-round performance against Islamabad. He is the joint second-highest wicket-taker along with Russell and will fancy signing out with another impactful performance.
Islamabad have two injury concerns: fast bowler Rumman Raees has a hamstring issue while Saeed Ajmal, who has sat out the previous two matches, is recovering from a minor foot injury. Ajmal was hit on the right foot while he was bowling on the eve of the play-off encounter during Islamabad's training and since then has been nursing a mild stiffness. But it is understood that he can play if the team management prefers him over Mohammad Irfan.
Luke Wright, who was forced to sit out in the previous two matches for Quetta due to some stiffness, is back in contention and likely to return as an opener. Fast bowler Aizaz Cheema, after his last-over heroics in the play-off, is likely to keep senior fast bowler Umar Gul out.
Stats and trivia
- Out of the nine matches they have played, Quetta have chased on seven occasions and lost only once.
- Sharjeel Khan needs 49 runs to become the highest run-scorer of the tournament. He already has the most sixes (18).
- The highest wicket-taker in PSL is Peshawar's Wahab Riaz (15). But next two in queue are from Islamabad and Quetta - left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz and allrounder Andre Russell with 13 wickets each.
- Quetta Gladiators have the highest innings total in the tournament - 203 - which they chased against Lahore Qalandars.
"It is a very big opportunity for Quetta and the population of Quetta and for its cricket if we are to win. Whether we bat first or bowl doest not really matter. The key to us performing is our team bonding which has been very good throughout the tournament."
Quetta captain Sarfraz Ahmed talks about his expectation on the eve of the final.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo