5 teams took 20 days and 24 games to end up right back where this whole PSL tournament had started. The same two teams who had kicked off the league in the very first game were the same two teams who would clash in the last game to crown the first ever PSL Champions. Before the tournament both teams were unfancied, neither team had been given much of a chance to get very far in the tournament. All the attention had been on the glitzy Zalmis, the mega rich Kings and the power packed Qalanders.
The lineups of the 3 ‘big’ teams were like a who’s who of T20 cricket. They had names like Gayle, Afridi, Malik, Tait, Tamim, Hafeez, the Akmals, Bopara, Amir, Bravo, Lendl, Tanvir, Cooper, Junaid, Bairstow and Wahab, etc. So it was no surprise that they were expected to be the teams who would be competing for the two spots in the final.
Quetta and Islamabad had some big names of their own but most were considered past their best like Misbah, Pietersen, Sami, Haddin, Ajmal and Watson. The first game of the PSL saw the Gladiators annihilate United by 8 wickets with 4 overs remaining. Both teams journey through the rest of the league stage followed a similar pattern with Quetta bulldozing over all their competition to unexpectedly top the league alongside Peshawar whilst Islamabad narrowly avoided failure to qualify after some really poor cricket being played in the early stages.
When it got to the playoff stages and the powerful Peshawar Zalmi team were knocked out by the mediocre Islamabad United side, many fans started questioning the format. But if we take a step back and think about it. Sure Peshawar won 6 games in the group stages and Islamabad only won 4. But after the group stage United won two knockout games bringing their wins up to 6, when they knocked Zalmi out, to get into the final. Whilst Zalmi only needed to win one knockout game to get into the final. They got two chances to win one knockout game but they failed on both occasions.
By the time we got to the final we had the Gladiators who had won 7 games to get there and we had United who had won 6 games to get there. In the end the playoff format ended up being spot on and in my opinion the two best teams in the PSL made it into the final. We also arguably had the two best captains in Pakistan going head to head. Some would say Malik has a better record than both at domestic level but he didn’t show it in the PSL. Sarfraz is on a course to lead Pakistan in all formats and Misbah is waiting on retirement, so in a way it was a meeting of the old school vs the new.
As Bismillah faced the first ball from Irfan, I couldn’t help but wonder if starting the match with a Bismillah had been an intentional move from Sarfraz, who is a Hifze Quran and a very religious man. Sarfraz likes to start everything with a Bismillah (Arabic for I begin in the name of God) as is evident from his post match interviews, so why not start one of the most important games of his captaincy career with a Bismillah too.
Bismillah didn’t last long, dismissed by Irfan for a duck after just 3 balls. The Gladiators appeared to crawl along scoring at a very pedestrian rate, losing Pietersen in the 5th over. Sangakarra and Shahzad kept wickets in hand for a chance at a late onslaught but to get there they had to survive a barrage from Sami and Irfan and weather the tricks of Khalid and Badree. All the time the Quetta score was slowly building up, eventually they completed an 87 run partnership whilst both scoring half centuries at over 160% strike rate. When did that happen? There weren't many huge shots played, in fact there were only 3 sixes between them but somehow they'd both managed to put Quetta in the driving seat. With small contributions from the other batsmen, the Gladiators managed to put up an imposing total of 174 runs.
The United bowlers had either been expensive or failed to take wickets, only Irfan, who has been peaking at the right time, had both a healthy wickets column and a miserly economy rate. Although expensive, Andre took some big wickets and ended up as the leading wicket taker for the tournament. Now it was down to the United batsmen and the Gladiators bowlers.
When United came out to chase 175 for the win, their chances of a win weren't too great. Scoreboard pressure is a big deal in any game but especially in a finals match, the only thing in their favour was that the Gladiators bowling attack is relatively weak.
Dwayne Smith opened up for Islamabad which was a risky move considering his scratchy innings of 19 runs off 37 balls in the previous match. But Dwayne had a point to prove and right from the first over he showed that he was going to do whatever it took to eradicate the memory of his last innings. He repeatedly attacked the Gladiators bowlers putting them on the back foot. By the time the first wicket (Sharjeel) fell in the fifth over, United were already on 54 runs and Smith carried on batting till the 15th over, only losing his wicket after scoring 73 runs in just 51 balls. Haddin ably supported him from the other end with a quick fire 50 of his own.
Smith left with United needing 36 runs from just 27 balls and I felt that this was a good time to send out one of the Pakistani domestic players like Khalid Latif, Asif Ali or Imran Khalid so that they could face a pressure situation in a big final. After all we’re repeatedly being told that helping Pakistani domestic players learn how to face big match situations like this one is the whole point of this PSL tournament. Much to my disappointment, the United dugout chose to send out Andre Russell instead. He’s a great player and I love to watch him bat but in this particular situation I would rather have seen Latif, Imran or Asif take the game all the way for Islamabad.
In the end, Andre didn’t last long anyway. Latif came out next smashing 16 runs off just 7 balls but he played a silly shot and got himself out. This allowed the United captain to come out and hit the winning runs in what was probably the best way to end the tournament.
Quetta and Peshawar were stronger in the group stages and would have made good winners but Islamabad deserved the victory more because they won they had to. They won 5 matches back to back to become PSL champions and to take the trophy home. They had a well balanced unit with a strong a mainly Pakistani bowling attack and a consistent mainly international batting lineup. They showcased the best of PSL, mixing home grown talent with international players.
Islamabad United shocks everyone and walks away with the PSL Crown
Islamabad United shocks everyone and walks away with the PSL Crown