Choice of game
Watching the PSL final live with friends was a no-brainer.
Predicting the winner of the final was difficult as Quetta Gladiators (the best team in the PSL) was facing a very strong and resurgent Islamabad United side that had won four games on the trot including two eliminators. I predicted that Quetta will achieve a narrow win. As it happened, Islamabad won comfortably.
Ever since they released their official team song (the best in my opinion out of all PSL teams) and the choice of captain, my support was firmly with Quetta, reinforced after their unexpected and strong win on the opening day of the PSL. Hence I was doubly delighted to see my team in the final.
Brad Haddin to me was the most influential player, and deserved to share the Man-of-the-Match award with Dwayne Smith. Although the West Indian scored more runs, I feel it was Haddin's presence at No. 3, and his complete calm and assurance at playing pace and spin that created an illusion of no pressure. In addition, after Smith's dismissal when the game could have potentially turned, Haddin hung in till the end to close off the game.
One thing you'd have changed about the day
I would have bowled Zulfiqar Babar in the Powerplay instead of Nathan McCullum during Islamabad's chase. Babar had done brilliantly in the first six overs throughout the tournament, and I felt Babar was both more aggressive and a more skillful option. Also, I can't resist watching his twirling arms.
The face-off you relished
The biggest face-off in the match was the battle of captaincy between the old warhorse Misbah and the emerging leader in Sarfaraz. Some people in Pakistan are backing Sarfaraz for a leadership role, including me, and were relishing this contest. Although Sarfaraz had already beaten Misbah twice in the tournament, you felt the winner of the final would be the real victor. Sarfaraz lost it this time.
The inclusion of Mohammad Sami in the World T20 and Asia Cup squads had given real context to his battle with KP and Sanga. I wanted to assess how Sami would respond when bowling in pressure and against great batsmen. Sanga was the clear winner.
A guy had brought an African djembe to the match and I borrowed it from him to play. Pakistanis love dancing to their respective cultural beats, and as I started playing the drums, hundreds of people around me in the lower stands joined in the fun, clapping, singing, shouting and dancing. It went on for over an hour and it was incredible fun, and a great joy to see people from all cultures and backgrounds join in the celebrations of an incredible tournament and two fantastic teams!
Shot of the day
Ahmed Shehzad's flick off his legs over square leg for 6. Sami was bowling fast and the ease with which Shehzad picked him up over square leg was breath-taking. A split second before the crowd started to celebrate, there was a discernible murmur oh 'Ohh' - the crowd was equally impressed. To add to the majesty of the shot, Shehzad held his pose for a second.
Overall Quetta had more support, but not overwhelmingly so. Tickets were already sold out about three days before the final. About an hour into the match, the stadium was completely full and it was difficult to find seats once you left yours. The noise was deafening and I went home with a sore throat. Mexican waves had been a regular feature throughout the tournament and it was the first time I had the chance to be a part of a Mexican wave - we had four consecutive 360 degree Mexican waves at one point in time.
The biggest cheers were reserved for Afridi and Darren Sammy. Yes, they were not part of the match, but their mere presence in the VIP stands being broadcast on the big screens at the stadium was enough to get the crowd into a frenzy. Afridi's supporters in particular, easily beat the crazy levels of his detractors.
Inflatables and stuffed toy obsessions
And then there is the stuffed toy obsession with Pakistani men in UAE stadiums that just fascinates me. And not just standard sized, those toys are always huge. Varieties on display today were teddy bears, tigers and sea lions.
There were many Quetta supporters with gladiator masks on, a successful merchandising idea. It is also impossible to go to a Pakistani game without seeing one of its beloved 'chachas'; three of them were present today. The most entertaining is the newest 'chacha' in Pakistan cricket, the guy in his green outfit and yellow headgear, tossing his long hair from side to side as part of his Pushto dance routine! Hard to believe, but there were V for Vendetta masks as well.
However the most smartly dressed were the PSL's commentary team, all showing up in traditional Pakistani dresses. Pat Symcox looked the best.
For each small milestone, the PA blared out the relevant team's official songs. During over breaks and timeouts, many of the famous Punjabi numbers and Coke Studio hits were also played. I personally am not a huge fan of constant music during a match though. The PA kept prompting the crowd to do something or the other, the highlight being when they were asked to whistle; for about 15 seconds, the stadium was filled with extremely shrill whistles.
ODI v Twenty20?
ODIs. I prefer context, narratives and time for stories to build within a game. Although Twenty20 is proper thrill-a-minute format, it just doesn't give you that time. Hence I've watched more Tests in stadiums than ODIs or T20s.
The quality of cricket was really high. Quetta made a good score, and yet there were pockets of some high-class bowling. So while you could marvel at Sanga's silken class and Dwayne Smith's brutality, you could still appreciate the steep bounce and seam of Irfan or the guile on display from Mohammad Nawaz. The fielding however, was below par, even though the standard of fielding has been very impressive throughout the tournament. Watching a tournament final in a full-house was a privilege.
Marks out of 10
Eight out of 10. Could have been 10 if Quetta had won, or if the management of ticketing and security was a little more organised. Although the experience within the stadium was fantastic, getting into the stadium remains a big hassle in Dubai, and is a mood destroyer.
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