KARACHI: Islamabad United scores an easy three-wicket victory over Peshawar Zalmi in the PSL-3 final play here at National Stadium Sunday. Dignitaries like Prime Minister Khaqan Abbasi, Governor Sindh Zubair Muhammad, Governor Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, Financial Adviser to Prime Minister Ismail Miftah, Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting Ms. Marriyum Aurangzeb, PCB Chairman Najam Sethi, Members of Parliament and Provincial Assembly watched the keenly contested match.
In the eyes of experts Luke Ronchi v Kamran Akmal was billed as the deciding mini match-up in the PSL final. Kamran failed, but Ronchi continued showing the dazzling form that will be the trademark of this year’s PSL. His 26-ball 52 helping Islamabad United steer ahead and then overcome a proper collapse to their second title in three years.
Islamabad looked like romping home when Ronchi and Sahibzada Farhan put on 96 for the opening partnership in under nine overs, in chase of 155. But an extraordinary collapse resulted in them losing six for 20. All of a sudden, scoring a run became a gigantic task.
Then, a moment that will live in Kamran’s memory as a bitter rejoinder to a memorable PSL came when Asif Ali attempted an audacious – and immeasurably daft – pull shot off Umaid Asif with Islamabad needing 30 off 33 balls.
Kamran raced almost towards fine leg in a desperate attempt to snare a catch he would have done better leaving to the outfielder. He misjudged it and let it through his gloves. Then Sameen Gul picked up the ball and threw it at the stumps, only to miss and concede four overthrows.
That sudden reprieve and the six runs to boot, released the tension in the warm Karachi air, and Peshawar were suddenly deflated again. Asif Ali smashed three sixes on the trot off Hasan Ali, while Faheem Ashraf hooked Wahab Riaz for six with just one required. Eventually Islamabad completed a win that – but for a chaotic 31 balls – had never appeared in any doubt.
Peshawar had, in truth, not played their best game. Perhaps a little jaded after winning four do-or-die encounters on the trot, they came out not looking quite as sharp as they needed to be. The in-form Kamran was out lbw for 1 off 8, with Samit Patel inflicting the early damage. It required a gritty fourth-wicket fifty-partnership between Chris Jordan and Liam Dawson to ensure Daren Sammy’s men weren’t blown away. Even so, Shadab Khan, who bowled better than he has in an otherwise slightly off-colour tournament, took three wickets to set Peshawar back once more, and the 148 they mustered owed a massive debt to a priceless cameo from Wahab, who whacked 28 off 14 to take his side to a total that was enough in last year’s PSL final.
Ronchi’s consistency has made him a potent asset for Islamabad, far more than they could have imagined at the draft – no matter how well-researched the signing was. He broke the back of a modest target very early on, smashing five sixes in the first five overs as he stormed to 45 off just 15 balls. For a while, the game looked like a replica of the one Islamabad played last week against Karachi to qualify for the final, when Ronchi and Farhan – who played his own part with 44 off 33 balls – took Islamabad to 97 at over 11 runs per over. His timing off world-class bowlers, and the confidence he has shown in backing himself against them, has been one of the surprises of this tournament, and he had one final attack in him to sting Peshawar in Karachi.
After a breakout season in last year’s PSL and a fairytale beginning to his Pakistan career, Shadab Khan has had an indifferent PSL this time around. He hasn’t had the best luck, but consistency has been missing from his game, with his varieties not quite as well disguised as they can be. He’s cut a frustrated figure with the bowl at times, but on the biggest domestic stage of all, the legspinner – still only 19, lest we forget – rose to the occasion.
He got rid of Andre Fletcher just as the West Indian began to look menacing, with a variation doing the trick, a quicker ball darting into his pads to trap him in front. At the death, he ripped the heart out of Peshawar’s powerful lower middle order, bowling Sammy a beautiful googly that trapped him as plum in front as could be. The very next ball Umaid Asif was on his way, also lbw, as Shadab’s focus on hitting the stumps brought him rich rewards. Ronchi and co. would be thanking him for needing to chase significantly fewer runs than they might otherwise have required.
After nine years with no cricket of comparable magnitude, Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, is gearing up to host the Pakistan Super League final. This is the second major venue after Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium to host a high-profile game in recent years, and it is considered a crucial step on the long road to reviving international cricket in the country.
The final between Islamabad United and Peshawar Zalmi will be played at the National Stadium and the entire route from the hotel to the stadium will be lined with guards from Pakistan’s paramilitary force, the Rangers, and the Sindh police. A full house (around 33,000) is expected, with tickets sold out hours after they were released. There is a three-tier security layer, heavily guarded by security forces. Deputy Inspector General Traffic Imran Yaqoob Minhas, while addressing a press conference, said a total of 8500 police personnel will be deployed around the stadium for the match.
The landscape of the city has changed drastically over the last nine years and the law and order situation has improved significantly. Karachi still remains the venue of the last completed Test match in Pakistan, a few days before the 2009 terror attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore.
Karachi is generally viewed as a more challenging city in terms of its law-and-order situation, and providing a complete security plan, what with the nearest hotel being at least 12 km from the National Stadium, is harder than it is in Lahore.
The stadium is situated in the centre of the city, and all major routes from all four directions that connect with the stadium will be closed for the general public. The two biggest hospitals of the city, Agha Khan and Liaquat National, are located close to the stadium, but the roads leading to them will be open. A shuttle service will be in place to take fans from the parking area to the stadium gates. The flow of traffic is likely to be reduced, but a strict directive has been issued to follow the day’s plan to avoid congestion. The fact that the game will be held on Sunday will help.
“It’s a big occasion for Karachi and the whole country,” said Rashid Latif, the former Pakistan wicketkeeper who is now team director at Karachi Kings. “I am very much thankful to the PCB for making this possible. This was a much-needed step because you cannot revive cricket by playing at one venue. It’s important to involve at least three or four cities to get this going. Otherwise, you cannot have a positive impact. Karachi is a huge city and I cannot explain in words how big this would be for us and for this country.
“We have played a month in Dubai and Sharjah but we actually felt the intensity when cricket came to Lahore for the playoffs. We realised how people are hungry for cricket and how desperate they are to have cricket back in their stadiums. This is huge for fans; they are really passionate about the game and during isolation we have suffered a lot in world of cricket.
“I think the security is somewhat overdone. I don’t want to be critical but I feel security should be given to the foreigners only, not to us. When we were in Lahore for playoffs, even local players and officials were restricted from going out freely. So this shouldn’t be the case because this will give off a bad impression among the overseas players.”
The security protocols are being overseen by international security consultant Reg Dickason who has praised the “remarkably thorough” security arrangements for the final, saying they were “as good as I have seen in all my years”.
The PCB plans to bring a major chunk of the next edition of the PSL to Pakistan, with at least three venues hosting more than 15 games in total. “We plan to have half of the PSL next year in Pakistan,” Najam Sethi, the PSL chairman, said on Friday. “But for that, we need four stadiums. As of now, we have Lahore, Karachi and Multan ready to host big matches, so now our focus is on preparing the stadiums of Rawalpindi and Peshawar. We’ve been working day and night to bring international cricket back to the country.”