By Shahid Hashmi
KARACHI: Defending champions Peshawar Zalmi will hope to carry a winning momentum against Islamabad United in the final of the Pakistan Super League as cricket of some international colour returns in Karachi after a big gap of nine years on Sunday.
Peshawar won the last two matches of the league phase to sneak into the play-offs and then beat Quetta Gladiators and Karachi Kings in the two eliminators to earn another shot at the defence of the title they won in Lahore last year.
Islamabad, who won the title in the inaugural year of the PSL in 2016, are likely to be without their inspiration skipper Misbah-ul-Haq who suffered a hairline fracture in his left wrist, which left the captaincy in the hands of experienced South African batsman Jean-Paul Duminy.
For the overseas players the focus has been unprecedented and around the team hotel and the National stadium which will be cordoned off by around 10,000 military and police personnel with spectators body searched and carried to the stadium in shuttles.
Duminy looked satisfied while speaking of security arrangements.
“It’s been really good, all the logistical works have been done behind the scenes and we’ve been brought here pretty safely,” said Duminy after his team arrived at the stadium under heavy security.
“Very grateful for all the hardwork going on behind the scenes and yeah we are excited about tomorrow. It’s a big occasion for all of us and exciting times ahead,”
Duminy was part of the South African one-day squad which played in Pakistan in 2007 and on his second visit he felt more passionate.
“It’s amazing to see how semi-finals went down in Lahore, the passion behind the game and support for local teams so we are very excited about tomorrow, it’s obviously going to be an exciting occasion to be part of PSL final and more specifically being in Karachi, so we are very excited about it,” said Duminy.
Peshawar Zalmi skipper Darren Sammy also described the final as a great occasion.
“Both teams will put up a great show and I want people to come and support us. Its good to be here because the city has not hosted cricket for a number of years,” said Sammy, who admitted his knee injury has not yet healed.
“Look there is no secret that I am not 100 percent fit there is no secret about it. I have to take part for my team and tomorrow that’s what I intend to do. The two games in Lahore were eventful ones and the first one especially was not good for heart.
“We needed to win them to get into the finals. I am happy that we are once again in the final and looking forward for tomorrow,” added Sammy.
The Zalmi captain said his squad is pumped up for the final.
“Look at the start of the tournament I said that we are here to defend our title, we knew that its not going to be easy. But the journey has been a great one and we have one more knock out game and Islamabad is in our way, so we have to stop them,” said Sammy.
The final is also seen as a contest between two in-form batsmen, Peshawar Zalmi’s Kamran Akmal and Islamabad’s Luke Ronchi. Kamran has notched the highest tally of 424 runs in the tournament while Ronchi has 383.
Sammy admitted his team has to stop Ronchi, but also warned of danger Kamran can pose for the opponents.
“Look, Kamran Akmal is also in red hot form too, so they have to stop him also, We respect our oppositions and so far our bowlers have come up with a plan against the batters and that’s why we are in the final.
“Tomorrow will be no different, Ronchi has a good tournament, so we have plans for him and we will execute them tomorrow but I am not going to tell you,” said the two time T20 World Cup winner.
Both teams also possess strong bowling attacks. Islamabad United have the services of league’s leading with taker in Faheem Ashraf with 17 coupled with the fuile of veteran Mohammad Sami has 12 and left arm spinner Samit Patel has 11.
Peshawar’s four pronged pace attack is more potent with Wahab Riaz (16 wickets), Umaid Asif (12), Hasan Ali (10) and Sameen Gul (six) all in good knick.
So a capacity 33,000 crowd is up for a real Twenty-20 treat on a pitch loaded with runs. The newly laid stands will roar for one more time after a big gap and cricket will be the winner on Sunday.