The eighth edition of the HBL Pakistan Super League (PSL) will see Lahore Qalandars take on Multan Sultans in the qualifier, the winner of which will gain direct entry into the March 19, marquee final at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
The Express Tribune looks at all the things which will matter when the Shaheen Shah Afridi-led 2022 champions face the 2022 runners-up and 2021 HBL PSL champions, who are captained by keeper-batter Mohammad Rizwan.
Lahore Qalandars started their HBL PSL journey without any real firepower in their system and ended on the last spots consecutively in the first two editions. However, their belief in their talent identification campaign, which ran throughout the year, helped them unearth future stars.
Today, under Shaheen’s able leadership, Lahore are the team to beat when it comes to HBL PSL, and they bagged 14 points out of the 20 on offer to prove it, from the 10 league matches. Winning seven and losing three, two of them against arch-rivals Karachi Kings, has put Lahore on a patch to successfully defend their title this year, something no other team has been able to do.
However, we’ve seen the mighty fall on many occasions during the playoffs, and Lahore have lost two out of their last three group matches, reeking of inconsistency as they go into the playoff stage.
And the biggest hurdle in Lahore’s path to defend their crown was to be presented by the highly-consistent Multan Sultans. They made sure they ended on the second spot, collecting the chance to gain direct entry into the final and put Lahore on a longer path if they want to lift the revamped HBL PSL trophy for season eight.
Multan are the newcomers in the HBL PSL as the league started with only five teams. They might not be able to match the experience of other franchises, but they’ve surpassed the success rate of any team by making it to the final in the last two editions.
Led by Rizwan, Multan have bagged 12 points, same as Islamabad United but with a better run-rate, from the league phase campaign, winning six and losing four matches. Their experience of qualifying and then performing well in big matches will give them an advantage over Lahore when the day of the qualifier comes around.
Head to head
The simple fact is Multan have performed their worst against Lahore, as compared to other opponents in the HBL PSL.
In their last five meetings, Multan have lost on four occasions, displaying their weakness against the flamboyant Lahore side. In the 2022 edition, Multan’s most successful campaign where they won nine out of their 10 matches in the group campaign, Rizwan and co faced Lahore thrice, lost to them twice.
In the ongoing season, Multan also haven’t been able to surpass the Lahore challenge till now. But the playoffs offer a different setting and it may come down to who plays better cricket on the day.
Interestingly, in their last five encounters, the team defending a total has always won when Multan faced Lahore.
In the first group match in 2022, Lahore won by 52 runs, while Multan won the next group match by 28 runs. The final of the 2022 edition saw Multan miss the mark by 42 runs, giving Lahore their first-ever HBL PSL champions title.
This year too, Qalandars have beaten Multan twice by putting up a total and then defending it with their world-class bowling, which includes captain Shaheen, pacers Haris Rauf and Zaman Khan and ace Afghan spinner Rashid Khan.
Considering the matches that have happened in Lahore during the league phase, the toss may once again play an important role in deciding which team will move to the final directly. Winner of the toss will be surely batting first and defending a target.