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Table toppers Sultans favourites to seal final berth against Zalmi
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Table toppers Sultans favourites to seal final berth against Zalmi

A truly momentous day awaits us as after an action-packed double round-robin league, four teams will be fighting tooth and nail for the two final places of the successful first-ever entire home edition of the HBL Pakistan Super League.

Shan Masood is oozing with confidence ahead of the semifinal and he has the right to feel buoyed because Multan Sultans have hardly put a foot wrong in this tournament as they have bagged six wins out of 10 games in the group stage.

Rilee Rossouw and James Vince are not available for the most important matches but they still have got enough firepower and loads up experience, with the likes of England’s Moeen Ali, Ravi Bopara and all-rounder Shahid Afridi in their ranks, to get the job done.

“We have done all the hard work over the past month and now is the time to make sure we produce the performances for which we have been working,” said Multan Sultans captain Shan Masood.

On the other hand, Peshawar Zalmi are not new to knockout games and have won the title once. That said, they are sorely missing their foreign players as all of them have left the country owing to the coronavirus outbreak and therefore Zalmi are forced to make wholesale changes. They have roped in Sikandar Raza as a replacement but there is a huge void to fill after the exodus of too many foreign players.

Having said that, Zalmi have got a superstar and their stalwart Kamran Akmal, who on his day can take the game away single-handedly and not to mention he is the highest run-getter in the history of HBL PSL. Multan will be wary of this fact and will be looking to contain the swashbuckling opener as he is still a force to reckon with.

Wahab Riaz likes to step up to the plate in games where the stakes are high and being the captain, he will leave no stone unturned. We know his bowling at the death is going to be pivotal for Zalmi's chances in the all-important semifinal.

“My boys are my strength and I believe and trust in everyone who is going to play tomorrow,” says Peshawar Zalmi captain Wahab Riaz.

Zalmi haven't quite lived up to their reputation this year and they just made the cut by edging out Quetta Gladiators on the net run-rate. Darren Sammy was axed from the captaincy midway through tournament owing to his injury concerns and rapidly dwindling form. The turbulence has impacted their performance but nevertheless, they find themselves in the crucial semifinal and the big occasion often brings the best out of players so Multan cannot afford to be complacent at any stage of the match.

Sultans have dominated Zalmi in the two group stage fixtures. In their first meeting during PSL V, Multan overwhelmed Zalmi by six wickets with 31 balls remaining in the tank at the Multan Cricket Stadium and thereafter they sealed another game by a mere three-run margin in a nerve-jangling affair at National Stadium, Karachi.

Shan Masood is steadily reaching his zenith. The lanky southpaw has plundered 253 runs at an average of 32 and he has smashed a fifty as well.

Also, Khudhdil Shah finally repaid the faith of his captain and management by thumping a staggering 70-run unbeaten knock at a stupendous strike rate of 241 against Lahore Qalandars in the final group stage match just a few days ago. What a time for him to get back in the runs column!

Two of the most successful and sought-after players by T20 franchises around the globe, Imran Tahir and Sohail Tanvir, provide unparalleled experience and of course a wide range of skills that often help teams clinch titles.

Both ace-bowlers have snapped up 10 wickets each and are definitely the two most important cogs in Sultan's wheels. Sohail has maintained an economy of 6.80 and recently became the first Pakistani bowler to bag 350-wickets in T20 cricket.

In addition to that, elder statesman Shoaib Malik, who knows the game inside out and has seen it all, is scoring fluently in this PSL. He has struck three half-centuries and his 239 runs have come at a decent average of 34.

Multan Sultans captain Shan Masood said: “We have played really good cricket and there’s been a difference between the first team and the rest of the pile from which we should take a lot of heart.

“Peshawar Zalmi have always been a domestic heavy outfit and that is why you always see them at the top of the table. I am not surprised that they are in the semi-finals. They have got a lot of match-winners and we have to respect every single one of them tomorrow and make sure we execute our plans.

“This is our first involvement in the knockout stages so we should be looking forward to that rather than putting any burden on ourselves. We have actually done the first step right, which is qualifying for the semi-finals, and now it up the players to go out there and express themselves tomorrow.”

Zalmi expect their lynchpin Kamran Akmal to fire tomorrow. He has accumulated 251 runs at a strike rate of 162 and slugged his third PSL century in the second match of this PSL.

Haider Ali has garnered quite a lot of attention with his flamboyance and free-spirited batting. He has shredded bowling attacks and hasn't looked fazed on the big stage.

The emerging 19-year-old is an artist when it comes to threading the gaps in the field and has been blazing all guns. Haider has piled up 239 runs at a strike rate of 158 and his magnum opus so far came against Qalandars in a losing cause where he slammed his maiden T20 fifty (69 off 43).

Zalmi's new captain has put his faith in his confidantes and hopes they will rise to the occasion. Wahab Riaz has relished the opportunity of spearheading a very successful PSL franchise. The left-arm bowling spearhead has snared 11 batsmen at an average of 23 - which makes him the leading wicket-taker in his team. The tearaway quick is still getting the ball to reverse and knows how to make the ball talk, especially, when it comes to the death overs.

Wahab will be complemented by Hasan Ali, who is quickly returning to his old menacing ways, and given he is the second-highest wicket-taker in the entire history of the tournament with 59 scalps, he will surely be pumped up to spring a surprise in the high-octane match. 

Rahat Ali has also quietly pushed the case forward for an international comeback as the speedster has got the ball to swing prodigiously and it hasn't been easy for the batsmen to outfox him.

Peshawar Zalmi captain Wahab Riaz said: “It is a big occasion for me to be leading Peshawar Zalmi in the semi-final and it is something which I cannot explain in words. It is a huge responsibility given to me and the franchise has believed in me. I would like to repeat our 2017 campaign and win the trophy, for which we have the capability.

“Nerves are always there. That’s something I cannot deny as it is a big pressure game but my boys are my strength and I believe and trust in everyone who is going to play tomorrow. Each and every one of them is a match-winner and I am hopeful that they are going to deliver.

“We bowled very well in the last game against Multan Sultans and I feel we can restrict their batsmen really well.

“It has been a great tournament and there was a lot of competition. One could never predict which team was going to make it to the top four. I rate the quality of cricket in this edition to be higher than the last four tournaments.

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