The match between Multan Sultans and Quetta Gladiators – two teams on either end of the league table – has been washed out at press time on Wednesday. While the Sultans have already guaranteed a playoff spot, and will in all likelihood clinch a top two berth, the Gladiators look favourites to miss out on the playoffs.
Never in the five year history of the Pakistan Super League have tables been turned to such an extent. A couple of weeks ago, the Gladiators were at the top, looking all set for yet another deep run in the tournament, and now they are on the verge of elimination. The defending champions could be joined by Islamabad United in missing out on playoffs, depending on the results. Should this transpire, it would mean that the two most successful sides in PSL history – in terms of trophies and overall win percentage – could face an early exit.
While both United and Gladiators have performed below par thus far, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that much of the reshuffling of the PSL table is owing to Lahore Qalandars rebounding from oblivion to now looking likely to clinch a playoff place. By the time you read this, the much awaited Karachi-Lahore clash at the National Stadium would’ve taken place on Thursday, with a win for Qalandars confirming a playoff berth – and a Kings triumph pushing them half-way there.
After four successive bottom finishes in the PSL, and three successive losses to begin season five – and then one win in four matches – even the most optimistic of Qalandars fans wouldn’t have imagined anything other than yet another sixth place finish. Now with four wins in five matches – and three on the bounce – before the Karachi match, Qalandars can actually make the top two if they win both their matches.
With Multan Sultans having qualified for the playoffs, the other sides are scrambling for the remaining slots
Much of the Qalandars’ revival owes itself to Ben Dunk’s blistering batting. However, as Lahore’s thrilling win over Peshawar Zalmi on Tuesday underlined, they have gradually evolved into a well-rounded team with performances coming from Fakhar Zaman, Sohail Akhtar, Samit Patel and a cameo by David Wiese lower down the order. With Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf and the shrewd left arm spin of Patel up top, Qalandars already have an impressive bowling line-up, allowing the supporters to now start dreaming the impossible.
Even so, nothing is settled yet in terms of playoff positions, with only the Sultans ensured a place thus far, and the other five still mathematically in the run – even if Islamabad and Quetta mightn’t have matters completely in their own hands.
Despite the Qalandars’ resurgence, the Sultans have maintained their position as the most consistent team and arguably the side to beat. They already had Rilee Rossouw and Shan Masood in top form, with James Vince’s demolition of Islamabad United in the nine-over contest further strengthening their batting lineup. Masood as the captain, and Andy Flower in the dugout, clearly have their influence with Sultans demonstrating themselves as the most strategic side in the tournament.
Meanwhile, Zalmi’s defeat against Qalandars put an end to a string of wins that the side witnessed in the aftermath of Darren Sammy being appointed as the head coach. However, those wins meant that as of Wednesday, Peshawar are still in the top two. The batting of Shoaib Malik and Haider Ali in the middle order has been the Zalmi’s obvious strength in this run. However, they still need to beat Sultan in the final league match today (Friday) to guarantee a place in the playoffs.
As things stand on Wednesday, United and Gladiators absolutely need to win their final match – both against Karachi Kings – to have any chance to qualify for the playoffs.
Karachi Kings still have their fate in their own hands as well, with two wins out of their three remaining matches guaranteeing playoff qualification. Win all three, and it would be the Kings who play the Qualifier, which will be contested in Karachi, and get two bites of the cherry in the playoffs.