Packed crowds. High-octane cricket. Young talent taking the stage by storm. The HBL Pakistan Super League 8 has already established itself as a contender for the most exciting edition in the tournament’s history. The 30 league-stage matches had everything that a cricket enthusiast demands and the Playoffs – that commence tomorrow when Lahore Qalandars take on Multan Sultans in the Qualifier – promises to add icing on the cake.
This edition of the HBL PSL has seen many records tumble. It has seen the highest successful run chase ever (when Multan Sultans chased down 243 against Peshawar Zalmi), the fastest century (by Multan Sultans’ Usman Khan off 36 balls), highest individual score (Jason Roy’s 145 not out), most centuries in an HBL PSL edition (seven) and highest-ever match aggregate in the history of T20 cricket of 515 in the match between Multan Sultans and Quetta Gladiators.
As the battle for the prestigious SuperNova Trophy and yearlong bragging rights enters its final stage, Lahore will remain under spotlight for the entire week as the Gaddafi Stadium stages the much-anticipated matches of this year’s HBL PSL edition.
Lahore Qalandars have their tails up as they enter the Playoffs with seven wins. Never before they have won this many matches in the league stage of an HBL PSL edition and the fact that they are the defending champions further adds to their confidence. They were the first team to book a Playoff berth.
Table-toppers Lahore Qalandars have had a superb run at the Gaddafi Stadium and that this ground is hosting the final stage of the competition is bound to play in their favour.
Fakhar Zaman, who was the highest run-getter in their successful campaign last year, has once again carried their batting. The left-hander is the top run-getter for Lahore Qalandars with 378 runs at a staggering strike rate of 171.04. Abdullah Shafique (193 at 144.02) has played impressive innings since his addition in the playing XI midway in the tournament and their overseas players in Sikandar Raza (198 runs at 188.57) and Sam Billings (179 runs at 146.72) have provided the firepower in the middle.
Lahore Qalandars also boast one of the most dangerous bowling lineups that has helped them record biggest win ever in the HBL PSL (by 119 runs) against Islamabad United. Their captain Shaheen Afridi (14 wickets at an average of 18.78) leads an attack that is good enough to send chills down the spine of any opposition on any day. With Shaheen, Zaman Khan (12 wickets at 22.08) and Haris Rauf (14 wickets at 23.07) make a lethal pace attack that limits the opposition’s scoring options in both Powerplay and death and Rashid Khan’s wily spin keeps the batters guessing in the middle-overs. The leg-spinner has the most wickets for a spinner this season with 15 scalps at an average of only 13.
Shaheen Afridi: “I am delighted with the consistency my team has shown in this edition. This team’s foundation is laid on the values of brotherhood and the way everyone backs and supports each other in the field is just a reflection of that. “We are very thankful to our fans on their continuous support. We have seen houseful matches in Home of Qalan-dars where the crowd turns out in large numbers to support us. We cannot wait to repay their faith with another title.”
For the first half of the HBL PSL 8, Multan Sultans dominated the points table by rolling over oppositions at their home. Though, they have faced more losses than wins since moving out of Multan, Mohammad Rizwan’s side will take heart from the fact that his batting chased down the highest ever HBL PSL and joint-second highest run-chase overall in T20 cricket, recorded the highest HBL PSL team total of 262 in their last group match. Multan Sultans finished second on the points table. m
Their young pacers Abbas Afridi (22 wickets at 14.95) and Ihsanullah (20 wickets at 14.60) lead the bowling charts and they have taken the league by storm. They are two of the three bowlers this season to record a five-wicket haul, and Abbas stepped up brilliantly in the last two matches of the Rawalpindi leg to take nine wickets in two matches.
Playoff fixtures (all matches at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore and begin at 1900):
Wednesday – Qualifier – Lahore Qalandars v Multan Sultans
Thursday – Eliminator 1 – Islamabad United v Peshawar Zalmi
Friday – Eliminator 2 – Loser Qualifier v Winner Eliminator 1
Sunday – Final – Winner Qualifier v Winner Eliminator 2.—APP