HBL PSL 2024: Sultans eye first win against Zalmi in high-stakes qualifier

HBL PSL 2024: Sultans eye first win against Zalmi in high-stakes qualifier

KARACHI: Multan Sultans have done well enough to deserve the top spot in the HBL Pakistan Super League standings by the end of the tournament’s round-robin stage.

They boast a line-up featuring the likes of their experienced captain Mohammad Rizwan and Usman Khan, arguably the most explosive batter.

Their bowling has a decent mix of pace and spin, ranging from seasoned pro David Willey, highly-rated local Abbas Afridi and leg-spinner Usama Mir, who is the highest-wicket taker of the ongoing PSL season so far.

“The guys at Multan, they’re students of the game, keen to learn and grow,” Willey told reporters on Tuesday. “That’s why we’ve got such great strength in depth, and some difficult decisions for the head coach to pick an 11 to go out there.”

Although the points table ranks them as the best team of the franchise extravaganza, the Sultans haven’t been completely impenetrable.

Two of their three losses in the 10-match league stage have come against Peshawar Zalmi; the team they are set to take on in the Qualifier here at the National Bank Stadium on Thursday.

Former Pakistan skipper Babar Azam being the Zalmi captain and coming up against his ex-deputy in the national side Rizwan, makes the Qualifier a stage for both to prove their mettle as impressive leaders.

While Rizwan has received praise for how he has fared as a skipper in the event so far, Babar will have a point to prove after a difficult run with Pakistan in the last few months.

Babar has trumped Rizwan in the two PSL league matches this season but both wins for Zalmi have been very close ones — by five runs in Multan and four runs in Rawalpindi.

It was a Luke Wood masterclass in Multan as the English pacer stood out in defending 179 for Zalmi. In Rawalpindi, an 84-run opening partnership between Babar and Saim Ayub proved heavier than Iftikhar Ahmed’s late onslaught in the chase.

Babar scored 64 in that match — one of his six half-centuries in the tournament so far. He is the highest-scorer this season with 498 but not far behind is Multan’s Usman, who has smashed two unbeaten centuries and one 96.

Usman, who left Pakistan to seek opportunities in the United Arab Emirates as a young cricketer years ago, is playing in the PSL as a foreigner, and the right-hander will need to act as X factor for the Sultans to finally beat Zalmi this season.

Talking about explosiveness, Saim will be expected to do that job for Zalmi. Although the southpaw hasn’t accumulated as many runs as Babar or Usman, the impact he had made with his outrageous attacking approach may well be the difference between Zalmi and the Sultans on Thursday.

The pitch in Karachi has assisted spin bowlers lately — Usama took three here in the 79-run rout of Quetta Gladiators on Tuesday — and both the sides will look to field their bowling line-ups accordingly.

If the Sultans have Usaman, Zalmi have Arif Yaqoob, a leg-spinner from Karachi who has had his moments this season — especially taking three wickets in one over against Islamabad United.

On a slow surface, bowlers with variations will come in handy for both sides, and Willey will be the one the Sultans will look up to along with Abbas.

“You know, I always try and look to swing the ball and then run one as well, so it’s try and challenge both edges,” Willey said. “I think my experience… I can feel those key moments where something’s going to happen and then either hold what I’m doing or change something as I need to.”

Zalmi will rely on the likes of Aamer Jamal and Salman Irshad in this department and will miss Afghanistan pacer Naveen-ul-Haq, who has left the squad for national duty.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2024


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