It all comes down to Sunday when Islamabad United, winners of the inaugural edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL), take on last year’s winners Peshawar Zalmi at Karachi’s National Stadium for the 2018 trophy.
This year’s edition has seen its fair share of thrills, from Kamran Akmal’s blistering batting to Shaheen Shah Afridi’s five-wicket haul, to an unforgettable super over between old rivals Karachi Kings and Lahore Qalandars.
With the final just two days away, here is a look at the teams and their long, bumpy road to the final.
The 2017 champions are led by two-time T20 World Cup winning captain Darren Sammy. Known for taking selfies after a win, this time around the West Indian star has taken to wiping his bat after smashing boundaries like a sword.
Peshawar Zalmi finally broke their one-run jinx when they beat Quetta Gladiators in the first eliminator at Gaddafi Stadium in a last-ball thriller.
In the inaugural edition of PSL, Peshawar had been knocked out of competition by Quetta. Last year, they were once again in a similar pickle when Mohammad Nawaz restricted Peshawar to just five runs in last three balls and kept them away from victory by one run.
In PSL 2018, Peshawar had a rather lacklustre start. They lost their opening match to PSL debutants Multan Sultans by 7 wickets. In their next match, they faced former champions Islamabad United and beat them comfortably by 34 runs.
The game against Karachi Kings saw Peshawar lose by 5 wickets. In the next match, Darren Sammy, hopping on one leg, turned the game around for his team when he smashed two sixes and scored 16* off 4 balls to ensure Peshawar’s victory.
Peshawar next thrashed Lahore Qalandars by 10 wickets, with English spinner Liam Dawson winning Player-of-the-Match award in his debut PSL game for his three-wicket haul.
The next three games saw Peshawar in trouble, as they lost back-to-back games before Kamran Akmal put the team back on track with 75 off just 51 balls against Karachi Kings. An unbeaten 107 off 61 balls by Kamran Akmal in the next game against Lahore Qalandars sealed Peshawar’s place in the knockouts.
The first eliminator saw the Yellow Storm face none other than Quetta Gladiators, where they broke their one-run jinx and went through to the second eliminator against Karachi Kings, where Peshawar beat Karachi by 13 runs to ensure their place in the final.
In the spotlight
Kamran Akmal is the lone centurion of this PSL season, and was also the only century-maker in PSL 2017. After a topsy-turvy start to this season, the last few matches saw him smash 107* off 61 balls and the fastest half-century in the league’s history.
With a new look this season, Wahab Riaz is still one of the deadliest Pakistani bowlers around. He is just one wicket away from becoming the top bowler of PSL 2018 (he has 16 wickets from 12 matches). It is yet to be seen what he will spring up in the final against Islamabad.
One of the new finds of PSL 2018, 33-year old Umaid Asif has proven why he was worth the selection. The right-arm medium is the second-highest wicket-taker for Peshawar Zalmi this season, with 12 wickets from 11 matches.
With former Pakistan Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq leading the team with his usual shrewdness, there was little doubt if the 2016 champions would make it.
The surprise winners of the inaugural edition, Islamabad spent the majority of their second season plagued with bans, with two of their players Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif suspended for spot-fixing.
This year, the team emerged from the shadows with a revised squad and the likes of Waqar Younis at its helm as director and Saeed Ajmal as their new spin bowling coach. Wasim Akram parted ways to become a part of PSL’s newest team Multan Sultans.
Despite losing their opening match to Peshawar Zalmi in a humiliating manner, Islamabad made a strong comeback and maintained their good form throughout the rest of the tournament. Hussain Talat’s 48 from 34 balls became a turning point for the match as Islamabad cruised to a five-wicket victory over Multan Sultans in a low-scoring thriller.
After losing their next match to Quetta Gladiators, Islamabad got right back on track, drawing their next game in an exciting Super Over against Lahore Qalandars, thanks to Andre Russell’s 10 off the last two balls which pushed Lahore to the bottom of the points table.
From there on, there was no stopping Islamabad United as they went on a rampant victorious streak, winning all of their remaining matches with Luke Ronchi smashing runs left, right and centre. Islamabad ended the group stage top of the table, and qualified for the final after beating Karachi Kings.
In the spotlight
Former New Zealand wicket-keeper Luke Ronchi has been an integral part of Islamabad’s amazing run this season. His unbeaten 94 against Karachi in the qualifier pretty much sealed the deal for Islamabad, as they comfortably eased into the final. He is the team’s highest scorer and the third-highest scorer of this season.
Fast becoming a finisher for Islamabad United, the 22-year-old left-handed batsman has been one of the best finds of this PSL. His 48 not out against Multan Sultans gave Islamabad their first win of the season.
With 17 wickets in 11 games at an economy of 7.72, Faheem Ashraf is the top wicket-taker of this season.