PSL homecoming

K Shahid gears up for the playoffs as PSL returns to Pakistan

PSL homecoming
There’s a good chance today’s [Friday] last two league matches, might be superfluous in the larger context of the tournament, by the time you read this.

As this is being written ahead of Wednesday’s clash between Quetta Gladiators and Lahore Qalandars, the former has already qualified for the playoffs and the latter already eliminated.

After Thursday’s matches Peshawar Zalmi vs Karachi Kings, and Islamabad United vs Gladiators, the table might have taken final shape.

But as of Wednesday evening, United and Gladiators have sealed their passage to the playoffs, with Kings, Zalmi and Multan Sultans vying for the remaining two slots.

Luke Ronchi

Sultans are the only side that have played all 10 of their matches. With 9 points in their matches, Sultans currently occupy the fourth and final playoff spot, with Zalmi chasing them with six points in eight games.

The scenario is straightforward. If Zalmi lose either of their two matches, they join Qalandars as the two eliminated sides, with Kings and Sultans going through. The Kings, meanwhile, would have to lose both their matches heavily and for Zalmi to win both theirs to drop out of the top four.

Hence, as things stand, there are two races going on. The first to secure the top two position and in turn play the first playoff, winning which means direct qualification for the final. The second is the race to finish in the top four and avoid group stage elimination.

As it happens, the Kings are a part of both the abovementioned contests, which could just as easily go to the wire as they could be over by Thursday.

Mohammed Hafeez

There could be a third inconsequential – in the larger picture – race between Lahore Qalandars and Peshawar Zalmi as well, to avoid finishing at the bottom of the pile. But for that Zalmi would have to lose both their games and Qalandars would have to win both theirs.

For Lahore, especially, it would be a major boost to avoid the bottom slot, or just get another win or two under the belt, considering their catastrophic history in the competition. It would give them belief ahead of PSL 4 next year that they can compete better than the first three seasons.

Even so, right now it’s all about the upcoming playoffs – two of which will be played in Lahore in the coming week.

Whoever wins Sunday’s first playoff in Dubai will get a week’s rest and go direct into next Sunday’s (March 25) final in Karachi. The second playoff will be in Lahore on Tuesday between the sides that finish third and fourth in the league. The third playoff on Wednesday would be between the team that wins the second playoff versus the team that lost the first, the winner of which would play the final.

Imran Tahir and Shoaib Malik

Islamabad United and Quetta Gladiators are the two form sides heading into the business end of the tournament

As things stand, the Gladiators and United look the likeliest to finish in the top two and should be playing the first playoff.

As of Wednesday, United are on a five game winning streak are sit pretty atop the table with 12 points in eight games, two clear of second placed Gladiators and third clear of third placed Kings. United’s surge has been spearheaded by Luke Ronchi’s brilliant exploits up top, with the wicketkeeper batsman having scored all three of the fastest fifties in the league so far.

While United recovered from two losses in their first three matches, which saw them near the bottom of the table for a while, Gladiators have come up with a similar turnaround since beating Multan in a nail-biter at Dubai.

Shahid Afridi

As of Wednesday evening, Gladiators too are on a three match winning run, making Quetta and Islamabad the two form teams heading into the playoffs, as the two look likeliest to faceoff on Sunday – if not the next Sunday as well.

Of the remaining three contenders, Zalmi face the toughest task to qualify and hence are the likeliest to miss out. But if there’s anyone who can inspire a team struggling to win games, it’s Darren Sammy. And knowing that it’s still in their hands might be motivation enough to win two consecutive matches that they need to qualify.

Whatever the results and whoever qualifies, Lahore and Karachi are set for three scintillating contests between the league’s top sides. And the standings get finalised tonight, with the first playoff coming up on Sunday.