Pakistan has moved on from the narrative of cricket coming home, now that cricket has begun to trickle back to Pakistan for the last three years. The story is larger than that this time. Pakistan's appetite for international cricket has begun to increase over the past two years, not content with the handful of games played in the country each year. Over 200,000 spectators turned out over the last seven days in Karachi, more than what the UAE leg saw over 26 matches.
Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators have been, indisputably, the top two teams in the PSL this season, winning seven of their ten league matches each. But on the head-to-head record, Quetta have the upper hand, winning all three games between the two sides throughout this season. Both teams have unique and formidable strengths, with Peshawar relying heavily on their pace attack, to the extent they went into the crunch Eliminator against Islamabad without Liam Dawson. Quetta's spinners have, on the other hand, made key contributions to their run to the final, led by Mohammad Nawaz. In addition, the experience of Sohail Tanvir and the raw pace of Mohammad Hasnain have lent a diverse set of attributes to the attack.
Both sides are laden with match-winners for every situation. What bodes well for the final is almost every player from both sides is in form, firing in all departments. In previous years, Quetta had issues with their overseas players not touring Pakistan, but on this occasion, full contingents from both sides are present in Karachi. While both sides play their third final, Peshawar have the advantage of experiencing victory in the PSL final in 2017, while Quetta are yet to get over the line.
The final is expected to be a full house with 32,000 spectators, helped by Quetta Gladiators being captained by local boy Sarfaraz Ahmed. Peshawar are always a popular team, led by the ever-affable Darren Sammy.
Quetta Gladiators WWLWW (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Kamran Akmal is in sublime form. He is the leading scorer in the PSL in the last four years, with the ability to single-handedly change the face of the game. Being ignored for the national side hasn't quenched his thirst for runs, and, in a late-career resurgence, Kamran has become one of the leading lights of the PSL. He had a horror start to this one, dismissed for three ducks in five innings, but bounced back to score match-winning knocks and make the difference for his side.
Darren Sammy has cited Shane Watson as a "real pain" for Peshawar in the PSL so far. With 1107 runs, Watson is the second-highest scorer in the PSL overall and the highest this season. Absent the last two years for the Pakistan leg of the tournament, Watson has decided to make the trip this time, with Quetta profiting hugely from the development.
Australian legspinner Fawad Ahmed had a painful homecoming in the PSL after a ball driven straight back by Imam ul Haq smashed into his mouth. He lost his tooth, and had to undergo gum surgery and have a tooth implanted. He was discharged from hospital and appears to have recovered well. Even so, he remains a massive doubt, and Sarfaraz promised he would not be risked unless fully fit.
Quetta Gladiators: 1 Shane Watson, 2 Ahmed Shahzad, 3 Ahsan Ali, 4 Rilee Rossouw, 5 Umar Akmal, 6 Sarfaraz Ahmed (capt & wk), 7 Dwayne Bravo, 8 Mohammad Nawaz, 9 Sohail Tanvir, 10 Mohammad Hasnain, 11 Anwar Ali/Fawad Ahmed
The main question for Peshawar is whether to play Liam Dawson, which gives them an extra spinning allround option, or to stick with the quick death-overs specialist Chris Jordan.
Peshawar Zalmi: 1 Kamran Akmal (wk), 2 Imam ul Haq, 3 Sohaib Maqsood, 4 Umar Amin, 5 Misbah ul Haq, 6 Kieron Pollard, 7 Chris Jordan/Liam Dawson, 8 Darren Sammy (capt), 9 Wahab Riaz, 10 Hasan Ali, 11 Tymal Mills
Pitch and conditions
The National Stadium has changed dramatically since its redevelopment. With the ground inactive for lengthy stretches of time, the grass was allowed to breathe, and the soil given a rest. Recent totals suggest this could be another high-scoring affair, and both teams have a real decision to make about what to do at the toss. A cool breeze is expected to blow for the duration of the match, but the morning rains that have been a feature across the past week should not impede a full game.
Stats and Trivia
Quetta's Shane Watson, who is the leading run-scorer in this year's tournament, scored an unbeaten century in the last T20 final he played - for Chennai Super Kings in the 2018 IPL final.
Peshawar's opening duo - Kamran Akmal and Imam-ul-Haq - have aggregated 389 runs as a pair, which is the highest among all pairs. They have shared big century stands in two of the last three games in the season.
Quetta has the highest scoring rate in the Powerplay overs (8.76) in this edition whereas Peshwar's scoring rate in the Powerplay overs is the worst (7.30).
In the death overs, Peshawar has been the most economical (7.84) bowling side whereas Quetta have leaked the most runs (9.65).
"Shane Watson has really been a pain for us. He is pretty experienced and is enjoying a great run of form,"Darren Sammy on a player potentially standing between Peshawar and the title
"If you look at the previous years then there were some factors which hurt us, such as some players going away. This time, we are at our full strength, so we will do our best to play like we have done and win the tournament. We have never won so we will try and give it our best shot."Sarfaraz Ahmed on the availability of first-choice international players, which hasn't been the case in Quetta's previous finals