Upside down

The race for playoff spots is heating up in the PSL. K Shahid reports from Multan, Rawalpindi and Lahore

Upside down
Lahore Qalandars’ 37-run win against defending champions Quetta Gladiators at the Gaddafi Stadium on Tuesday upset the status quo, not just for the home side, but for the entire league table. The Qalandars’ first win of the tournament also meant back to back defeats for the Gladiators who after looking all set for the coveted top two playoff positions, might now be among those scrambling to break into the top four.

In that particular scramble, there also are Islamabad United, who at press time on Wednesday have given the Qalandars a 199 run target in what is almost a must-win game for both the sides. Heading into the game, United are winless in three, losing to a resurgent Karachi Kings in their previous outing in Rawalpindi.

Muhammad Amir and Kamran Akmal

The Kings have turned their season upside down by winning consecutive matches against United and Peshawar Zalmi. The Kings’ win on Monday pushed Zalmi outside the playoff spots and catapulted Karachi to second behind Multan Sultans, who made the most of their three home matches to establish themselves as the team to beat so far in the tournament.

Such is the competition thus far that every single match impacts the standings on both ends of the table. For instance, if Qalandars manage to hunt down the target set by United today, with back-to-back wins and five more to go, they’d start looking good money for a playoff berth all of a sudden. And a defeat for Islamabad, who were top of the table at press time last week, would mean face an uphill task for United to make it to the playoffs.

Barring the Gladiators, whose losses have almost come out of the blue, the other sides struggling over the past week have all had problems with their starting 11.
Multan Sultans and Karachi Kings have the momentum going into the final league matches

Peshawar Zalmi dropped captain Darren Sammy, who has been having a tough time with the bat. With Carlos Brathwaite becoming available that was an understandable decision. For Zalmi, the likes of Tom Banton has not really fired, and the impressive Haider Ali and veteran Shoaib Malik not quite as consistent.

United have struggled with their lower order batting, and almost the entirety of their bowling. Faheem Ashraf, Musa Khan, and Amad Butt have all been dropped in recent games. United will hope the inclusion of Dale Steyn will provide more firepower to their bowling attack.

Lahore Qalandars too dropped Fakhar Zaman despite their first win of the tournament. Not only has Fakhar not fired in the tournament, he has looked visibly out of sorts. Benk Dunk and Samit Patel seem to have given the Qalandars batting lineup a lifeline, but they would now need to go big in almost every match and hope that Chris Lynn sufficiently fires as well.

Ben Dunk and Samit Patel

Shan Masood and Rilee Rossouw

Quetta Gladiators, meanwhile, have dropped Ahmed Shehzad after an anonymous start to the season. They also haven’t got the consistency they would want from their illustrious opening duo of Jason Roy and Shane Watson – despite the latter coming good in a losing cause against Multan Sultans.

Kings resurgence owes itself to a combined effort, with big names like Babar Azam, Alex Hales and Muhammad Amir coming good ahead of the crucial part of the tournament. However, the Sultans look like the team to beat with Shan Masood proving his doubters – including this space – wrong with both his captaincy and batting.

Multan also are quite clearly the most tactical side in the league, often going with horses for courses in terms of the shape up of the starting 11 and their utilisation. Sultans and Kings have the momentum, while the remaining four vie for the playoff cut.