Quetta Gladiators were tagged as the “dark horses” of the inaugural Pakistan Super League and they did live up to the reputation and qualified for the final without much ado while the Islamabad United was one of the favorites.
Now after contrasting fortunes in the league phase the two teams meet in the final of the inaugural edition of the PSL in Dubai on Tuesday, with Islamabad peaking at the right time after a frustrating start to the league phase which may worry the spirited Quetta.
Under a wise and relaxed coach in Moin Khan and an astute captain in Sarfraz Ahmed, the Gladiators became one of the most popular sides of the tournament, besides Shahid Afridi’s Peshawar Zalmi.
They upstaged Islamabad in the opening game of the league and has since been outstanding on the ground, only losing to Lahore and Peshawar in the first round while winnings the other six matches.
Openers Luke Wright and Ahmed Shehzad had looked confident while Kevin Pietersen’s presence in the team has given the top order much stability. Sri Lankan legend Kumar Sangakkara has bolstered the batting ever since he arrived after featuring in the Masters league.
But the star for Quetta has been the left-arm spinning allrounder Mohammad Nawaz. The 21-year-old from Rawalpindi is the second highest wicket-taker with 13 (behind Peshawar paceman Wahab Riaz who has 15) and has also been useful with the bat scaoring 113 in the league phase.
His early form, four wickets and 22 not out in the first match earned him a maiden call in the Pakistan team for the Asia Cup and World Twenty20.
The arrival of Grant Elliott was also a boom for the Gladiators as the New Zealand allrounder has grabbed 11 wickets in five games with the best of 4-15. When the Gladiators were in trouble against Peshawar Elliot hit 40 in a last wicket stand of 63 with Zulfiqar Babar.
The Gladiators’ two biggest assets have been coach Moin and West Indian legend Viv Richards as mentor. While Moin has been in charge of the planning in a relaxed manner, Viv has had a great influence on the players by motivating them in his varied style — chiding when they lack and affectionating when they perform.
Sarfraz said the final will be challenging against a team which has gained momentum with time.
“It’s a challenging prospect to face Islamabad,” said Sarfraz. “But we have been meticulous in our approach so we have to be at our best one more time to become the champions and we know we have that in us to win the title.”
Islamabad has all the bases covered when they drafted a balanced squad. With an experienced coaching staff in Australian Dean Jones and Pakistan’s legendary paceman Wasim Akram they had no shortage of motivation. But the initial losses coupled with too many injuries had left the camp in disorder. Australian Shane Watson showed great form before he fell injured and had to return home, skipper Misbah-ul-Haq, paceman Mohammad Sami, allrounder Andre Russell and batsman Babar Azam all fell injured simultaneously. But luckily for them things fall into place at the right time.
A win over Karachi Kings — the top of the flops in the PSL- in Sharjah ensured Islamabad’s qualification in the play-offs where they first beat Karachi and then had the better of favorites Peshawar.
Luckily for Islamabad opener Sharjeel Khan has hit form at the right time, hitting the first hundred in PSL in their 50-run win over Peshawar two days before the final. It augurs well for Islamabad batting which also have Misbah, Dwayne Smith and veteran Australian Brad Haddin.
Sami and Mohammad Irfan have led the pace attack with verve and hostility. Sami’s 5-8 in the eliminator broke Karachi Kings batting while Irfan has shown form in the chances he has been given in between well deserved rest. Left-armer Imran Khalid took four wickets against Peshawar in the play-off while West Indian Samuel Badree has also been outstanding wherever and whenever he was asked to bowl.
The crowds response in the PSL had been a worry for Pakistan Cricket Board but they have announced Tuesday’s final is a sell-out, so its going to be an electrifying atmosphere at Dubai stadium with a one million dollar prize money and a glittering trophy is on offer for the winner.