When the PSL left the UAE behind as a temporary staging venue, the expectation was that it would also mean leaving behind an era of matches often played with plenty of empty seats. But the Coronavirus outbreak has meant a form of spectator-less deja vu in Lahore for the first semi-final of this year's tournament between league leaders Multan Sultans and Peshawar Zalmi.
Sultans have been the class of the competition in 2020, winning six out of ten matches. Two others were washed out while their season-ending loss to Lahore Qalandars was a match in which they rested many of their frontline bowlers - Sohail Tanvir, Mohammad Irfan, Shahid Afridi and Imran Tahir - as a consequence of having already clinched first place outright.
Largely, Sultans have been greater than the sum of their parts. They don't have anyone in the top five in the PSL scoring charts while Sohail Tanvir and Imran Tahir are tied for fourth in the league with a solid but not spectacular 10 wickets apiece. Yet from match to match, someone has been able to step up. It means they were not left as badly hit as some other teams have been by Coronavirus travel defections because they were not so heavily dependent on the likes of Rilee Rossouw and James Vince to do the bulk of their scoring.
The same cannot be said of Peshawar Zalmi who have gone through a topsy-turvy campaign. Daren Sammy stepped down from captaincy to take over as coach, experiencing initial success before the team's form waned. The fourth seed in the playoffs showed the ill effects of so many departures due to the pandemic in their last match to finish off the regular season against the Sultans when they were left with no overseas players.
The absence of the likes of Tom Banton, Liam Livingstone, Lewis Gregory, Carlos Brathwaite and Liam Dawson left a gaping hole, especially on the batting side with an inability to finish off what should have been a relatively simple chase. Time will tell if the number of local Pakistani replacements are able to plug numerous holes or if the Sultans' all-round depth will leave Zalmi inundated and unable to keep their heads above water to reach the final.
Sultans LWWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Khushdil Shah has shown glimpses of being an explosive finishing force throughout the season without carrying on to making a big score, often enforced by the overs left to bat in the first innings or runs left to score to get to a target. That is until the Sultans' final match of the regular season against Lahore Qalandars. The 25-year-old left-hander throttled the Qalandars bowling unit for six sixes on his way to an unbeaten 70 off 29 balls. He has only been dismissed in four of his eight innings this season and will be licking his lips at the opportunity to get an extended innings at the crease against Zalmi after clubbing an unbeaten 30 off 20 balls against them in their last encounter.
The ageless Shoaib Malik has been a steady contributor all season for Zalmi and is hitting excellent form with the bat at the best possible time. He has three half-centuries in his last four innings. With the ball, he has not taken any wickets, but that is a handy disguise for his solid economy rate of 8.20, good enough for third on the team. With much of the batting order depleted due to the exodus of overseas players, the onus will be on him to continue delivering in the playoffs.
After resting the bulk of their frontline bowling unit against Qalandars in the finale of the league phase, expect all of them to return for the playoffs. Moeen Ali has been shuffled up and down the order during the season but he is likely to be given another go at the top.
Multan Sultans (possible): 1 Moeen Ali, 2 Zeeshan Ashraf (wk), 3 Shan Masood (capt), 4 Ravi Bopara, 5 Khushdil Shah, 6 Rohail Nazir, 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Sohail Tanvir, 9 Ali Shafiq, 10 Mohammad Irfan, 11 Imran Tahir.
Sammy also was keen to state earlier in the season when he resigned from the captaincy that he was officially "player-coach" and that a time could come when he re-entered the XI based on the needs of the team. There could be no greater need than now
Peshawar Zalmi (possible): 1 Kamran Akmal (wk), 2 Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Umar Amin, 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Haider Ali, 6 Sikandar Raza, 7 Darren Sammy, 8 Wahab Riaz (capt), 9 Hasan Ali, 10 Rahat Ali, 11 Mohammad Amir Khan
Pitch and conditions
Rain has marred quite a number of matches at this year's PSL, including two matches in Lahore, but the forecast is expected to remain clear on Tuesday. After a low total of 138 chased with 23 balls to spare by the Sultans in the first match played in Lahore, the pitch has turned into a buffet for batsmen. Totals of 187, 187 and 186 have been chased with relative ease in the last three matches played at the Gaddafi Stadium. Expect runs for whoever wants to stay at the crease.
Stats and Trivia
Five of the seven highest individual scores of this PSL season have been recorded in Lahore. That includes the four knocks with the most sixes: Chris Lynn's 113* off 55 balls (eight), Ben Dunk's 99* off 40 balls (12), Dunk's 93 off 43 balls (10) and Mohammad Hafeez's 98* off 57 balls (seven)
Sultans have won one of their three completed matches in Lahore this season, the lone victory coming in the opening match of the season against Qalandars, chasing a target of 139. One of their matches was also washed out 16.5 overs into the first innings against Karachi Kings
Zalmi lost their only match at the venue during this tournament, a five-wicket defeat to Qalandars with a ball to spare, unable to defend 187