The most remarkable thing about this game was, that it actually happened! The fact that it had rained heavily overnight, and then some more earlier in the day, meant that it was a distinct possibility that the match might not happen at all. In case of a washout, Karachi Kings would have advanced to the final as they had finished higher on the points table than Peshawar Zalmi in the qualifying round. Unfair as it might sound, those were the rules which had been announced and decided at the outset.
The organisers of the tournament however, had waited for this match for more than a year and they were not going to let the clouds steal their thunder. The PCB management worked tirelessly to prep the Gaddafi stadium ground and revive it to play-worthy conditions. An army of men worked non-stop with all possible gadgets at their disposal, including two heavy-bodied helicopters (!) in order to dry the ground in record time. It really was a remarkable effort, and one must congratulate the PCB, the Punjab government and the armed forces that worked in harmony, and with dedication to ensure the game goes ahead.
The second noteworthy and again, remarkable feature, was the Lahore crowd. For this game, there was a full house. The people of Lahore know how to party, and party they did. Young and old, boys and girls, men and women, rich and poor, Lahoris from all strata of society turned up in thousands, and clapped, cheered, shouted, danced and sang their hearts out. It was a stupendous turnout. If anyone ever had any doubts about the safety of holding high profile cricket games in the country, this impressive display of organisation and public participation should lay those doubts to rest. Well done Lahore. You have shown yet again, that you are the heart and soul of a vibrant Pakistan.
In the game itself, Karachi Kings won the toss and as has been customary in this tournament so far, opted to bowl first. They played without skipper Imad Waseem (recovering from a head injury), and without their talisman Shahid Khan Afridi (nursing a sore knee). This meant that the mantle of captaincy was passed to Muhammad Amir. These changes did not bode too well for the Kings as they froze against the Kamran Akmal juggernaut. This compact Lahori, despite being in terrific form for the tournament, had been dismissed cheaply in the previous game. He was determined to make up for missing out on that earlier game, as he performed to a full house in his home city.
Akmal was determined to show that he had a great deal of cricket left in him. The Gaddafi stadium provided an ideal backdrop to his performance – and he could not have made a more forceful statement. Plundering 77 runs from just 27 balls, he pulled, hooked, drove, and cut mercilessly. Sparing no one, he was particularly ruthless on his leg side, repeatedly clearing the rope. In one hapless Shinwari over, he scored 25 runs. Amir, at this point, showed his inexperience. Instead of bringing himself on, he bowled lesser bowlers, and Akmal merrily went on to score runs freely against the likes of Usama Mir and Danish Aziz. That was an example of poor captaincy, and Karachi paid dearly for this error in judgement.
After Peshawar Zalmi had posted a monumental 170 from their restricted quota of 16 overs, it was always going to be difficult for Karachi Kings to chase these runs against any bowling attack. And against the bowling attack of Hassan Ali, Wahab Riaz and Sameen Gul, it was going to be extremely difficult. Zalmi never seemed in any real danger of the Kings getting anywhere close to overhauling their score. In the end, to the sheer delight of their fans, Peshawar won quite comfortably.
Team Zalmi clearly enjoyed support from a large part of the crowd. This was partly because they were playing against Karachi (the old Lahore Vs Karachi rivalry surfacing), and because of the huge popularity of Peshawar’s larger-than-life skipper, Darren Sammy. The sight of a red-turbaned Sikh in the crowd, wearing a yellow Zalmi shirt and celebrating Peshawar’s win, broadcasted the universal appeal of cricket to Pakistanis across the board. Sometimes, actions DO speak louder than words, and the image of this Sardar ji dancing at the winning finale of the game, along with a bearded young friend of his, will stay with us for a long time.
The two PSL games that have been played so far in Pakistan have been entertaining and thrilling to watch. But the most important factor has been, that these matches have happened without any untoward incident. The long and arduous tunnel that we as a nation had been travelling through for the past few years, is hopefully reaching a happy conclusion. The long night is about to end, and the first rays of dawn are just around the corner. Insha’Allah!
If you want to catch up on your PSL reading before the finals, then catch the action LIVE on the field in PSL: The Force Awakens. Also read PSL Update: Be Afridi, Be Very Afridi, our most popular PSL read! And of course, if you’re a TRUE Cricket Lover, then catch up on PSL: It’s More Than Just Cricket!
Dr. Sajid Butt is a consultant-radiologist based in London, U.K.