Sultans v Kings: The showdown between mantra of data and the star-studded home side
The first match marking the resumption of the festive Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2020, table-toppers Multan Sultans will lock horns with second-placed Karachi Kings to decide the first finalist of the tournament.
A lot has changed since the last ball was delivered back in the round-robin phase of the competition in March this year but the uniquely competitive nature of the league is expected to be retained in the playoffs.
All teams recommence their journey to pocket the coveted title with each side being hit by a loss of momentum and absence of certain key players.
This scenario thus evens out the playing field as the stars out there in the middle adapt to the behind-closed-doors atmosphere in National Stadium, Karachi.
The prioritisation of data was the highlight of Multan Sultans' flawless game plans executed perfectly in the first round of the tournament as they deployed a wonderful mix of young talent and experienced pros.
Each individual was given a specific role while the combination of Andy Flower at the helm of affairs in the backroom staff and Shan Masood employing shrewd tactics worked well for them.
History beckons for the team to make it to their first PSL final after two failed attempts but three of their overseas players are unavailable for the playoffs.
James Vince, Fabian Allen and Moeen Ali miss out for Multan with Joe Denly, Adam Lyth and Brendan Taylor drafted into their squad as replacements.
They may be jolted by the exodus of some important members of the team but their bowling largely remains intact with veteran Imran Tahir spearheading a deadly wrist-spin attack comprising of Shahid Afridi and Usman Qadir as other options.
Multan also have the luxury of two big-hitters in Khushdil Shah and Rilee Rossouw, with the latter blasting his maiden PSL century before the coronavirus-induced postponement.
Meanwhile, Karachi Kings boast an equally capable side to topple Multan from their perch and force their way into a PSL final for the first time as well.
The home side relied heavily on their powerhouse top-order where Pakistan captain Babar Azam, belligerent striker Sharjeel Khan and England white-ball maestro Alex Hales continually intimidate bowlers.
What may concern the team, though, is the fact that their pace bowling may not be up to the mark this time around due to the unforeseen absence of Chris Jordan. Karachi may be able to fill that void by including Wayne Parnell in the playing XI but Mohammad Amir's mediocre form of late adds to their woes.
Off the field, Karachi's playoffs campaign will have a significantly sentimental side attached to it since their head coach Dean Jones tragically passed away in September. With Wasim Akram taking over the management, it remains to be seen whether the team can brave past the huge loss in the coaching staff to shine in glory or rudderlessly wilt away under the pressure.
Multan Sultans: Shan Masood (capt), Adam Lyth (England), Ali Shafiq, Bilawal Bhatti, Brendan Taylor (Zimbabwe), Imran Tahir (South Africa), Joe Denly (England), Junaid Khan, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Ilyas, Mohammad Irfan, Ravi Bopara (England), Rilee Rossouw (South Africa), Rohail Nazir, Shahid Afridi, Sohail Tanvir, Usman Qadir, Zeeshan Ashraf
Karachi Kings: Imad Wasim (capt), Aamer Yamin, Alex Hales (England), Arshad Iqbal, Awais Zia, Babar Azam, Cameron Delport (South Africa), Chadwick Walton (West Indies), Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Rizwan, Sharjeel Khan, Sherfane Rutherford (West Indies), Umaid Asif, Umer Khan, Usama Mir, Waqas Maqsood, Wayne Parnell (South Africa)