It was all one grand vision, a masterplan that, five years on from the investment poured into it, has finally paid dividends. When the PSL was envisioned five years ago, former chairman Najam Sethi might have imagined one day a grand stadium being lit up to welcome Pakistan’s biggest rivalry in a big final, played out in front of 40,000 fans and millions watching on TV. Lahore vs Karachi would be a marquee occasion, one that elevated the status of the league to another level, and commanded interest not just from within Pakistan, but across cricket’s global T20 ecosystem.
Most of those plans looked like pipedreams at first. Getting foreign players to actually come to Pakistan was initially so onerous a task that players had to be paid for simply making the trip. It likely didn’t help that Lahore and Karachi were by some distance the worst two franchises in the league for the first two years, and neither of them made it to a final in the opening four seasons. The financial agreements between the PCB and the PSL always appeared poised on an uneasy precipice; just recently, the latest dispute resulted in the two parties ending up in court.
For a brief, glorious moment on what should be a cool Karachi evening, all those concerns will be swept under the carpet, like gnawing family disputes at a wedding reception. Half a decade on, the PSL will deliver what it was created to provide. Lahore Qalandars will face Karachi Kings in what is, by far, the biggest game in the league’s history, the dream final secured after Karachi’s Super Over win on Saturday, followed by two uncharacteristically efficient Lahore performances. There may be no fans at the National Stadium, but television sets around the country – perhaps even further beyond – will have eyeballs on them in record numbers as Pakistan’s two most storied cities rejoice in getting one over the other.
Narrative aside, there is a colossal cricket match to be won here, and the teams are intriguingly evenly matched. Karachi have generally had the wood over Lahore; their most recent meeting was a 10-wicket thrashing Lahore suffered at Karachi’s hands. However, Lahore appear to have momentum, as well as form on their side. They have, in Shaheen Afridi, the best bowler in the tournament in the form of his life, while Haris Rauf isn’t far behind. David Wiese is playing like a man inspired, while Mohammad Hafeez enjoys a late career surge. All that without even mentioning Ben Dunk, who is yet to fire in the playoffs. Karachi, though will remember his blistering onslaught from earlier this year, when a 40-ball 99 inspired Lahore to a stunning eight-wicket win over Imad Wasim‘s side.
Karachi are perhaps less explosive, but, Saturday’s Super Over notwithstanding, somewhat more assured in the way they secured passage to the final. In Babar Azam, they have an opening batsman almost nailed on to get runs at the top of the order, with his opening partner Sharjeel Khan providing the fireworks. Throw in Alex Hales, and that makes for a lethal top three, with Wasim, as evidenced by that last-ball boundary, one of a handful who can chip in with vital runs down the order. Mohammad Amir finds himself in sensational form after shutting Multan Sultans out with perhaps the most perfect Super Over in history.
Karachi’s process against Lahore’s seemingly unstoppable momentum. The game needs no more billing than that