Gladiators vs Zalmi: When the best of the best come face to face

Published: March 16, 2019
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Whatever happens on Sunday, it will cap off yet another fantastic PSL tournament, and whether it is the Gladiators or the Zalmi who lift the trophy, in the end Pakistan will win. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ QUETTA GLADIATORS

Quetta Gladiators versus Peshawar Zalmi: the two finalists confirmed after a month of enthralling cricket. All the ebbs and flows of the tournament bow down to one game, the final, which is to be played on Sunday, March 17th.

Gladiators have previously been part of two finals, yet have come out short on both occasions. I believe the reason is their key players leaving them once the tournament was shifted to Pakistan. This year they will not be facing such a problem, having secured the services of T20 megastar Shane Watson. Watson was part of the previous Pakistan Super League (PSL) seasons, yet refused to visit Pakistan. This year however, he made the trip to Karachi, which has already paid off with him smashing 71 in the first qualifier.

Shane Watson slammed 71 in 43 balls, Peshawar Zalmi v Quetta Gladiators, Qualifier, Pakistan Super League, March 13, 2019. Photo: PSL

Zalmi were the second team to reach the final. Winners of the 2017 edition and finalists in 2018, Zalmi were also one of the top teams throughout the 2019 edition. Captained by Darren Sammy, they consistently looked a professional unit throughout the tournament.

The best two teams in the tournament made the final, which makes for an exciting game. But since the final is coming up, let’s analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the two finalists and try to predict who will cross that finish line.

Quetta Gladiators

Gladiators have undoubtedly been the best team of the tournament thus far. At the group stage, Gladiators won the most games, and showed the most consistency. Led by Sarfraz Ahmed, they have been the team to beat this year in the PSL.

An in-form Sohail Tanvir had plenty of reasons to celebrate. Photo: PSL

In past seasons, I haven’t been much of a fan of Gladiators, largely due to them preferring senior cricketers over young and upcoming talent. For the first three seasons, Gladiators repeatedly selected Anwar Ali and Asad Shafiq, despite numerous failures. This annoyed me, as I felt that PSL should be about giving youngsters a platform to show and prove their abilities.

This year, they replaced Shafiq with Ahsan Ali, and they replaced Anwar with Mohammad Hasnain. Both decisions have proved to pay dividends, as the two replacement players have made a mark this tournament. Pacer Hasnain has impressed the world with his speed and rhythmic action, whereas Ahsan has proved with his powerful top-order hitting that Pakistan is still producing batting talent.

The strength I see within Gladiators is their top-order batting. Watson throughout the tournament has been in terrific form, and once he gets going, it is almost impossible to stop him. His partner at the other end, Ahmad Shahzad, has also found form at the right time of the tournament. He started the tournament poorly, yet has come up strong in the latter part.

Ahmed Shehzad steers one towards third man, Karachi Kings v Quetta Gladiators, PSL 2019, Karachi, March 10, 2019. Photo: PSL

Whilst the top-order of Gladiators looks strong, their lower-order to me doesn’t look the best, which could cause them problems if chasing a large total. I feel that Sarfaraz is not suited to play in the lower-order. Yes, he can hit the odd boundary, but I don’t feel he is a consistent power hitter, something that is required at the death of the innings. That is why I feel Umar Akmal is extremely important. Akmal has always been my favourite Pakistani batsman, due to his unpredictable nature. It will be interesting to see which Akmal turns up tomorrow, because if it’s the ‘best Akmal’, Quetta will be lifting the trophy because he has that much of an impact on the game.

If Gladiators win the toss, I would hope they choose to bowl first, because allowing Zalmi to chase will be a mistake.

Umar Akmal celebrates his half-century, Peshawar Zalmi v Quetta Gladiators, PSL 2019, Dubai, February 15, 2019. Photo: PSL

Peshawar Zalmi

Captained by one of the most successful T20 captains in world cricket, Zalmi once again find themselves in the final of the PSL tournament. Sunday’s game will cap off a tournament filled with comprehensive victories, final over thrillers and heartbreaking moments for Zalmi. It has been a rollercoaster ride!

Their strengths are aplenty, starting with their ferocious pace attack. Bowlers who can hit 90mph are rare, yet Zalmi have three of them in their attack: Hasan Ali, Wahab Riaz and Tymal Mills. The trio makes it difficult for opposition attacks, especially on the Karachi pitch, which has pace and bounce.

Hasan Ali celebrates a wicket in trademark fashion, Karachi Kings v Peshawar Zalmi, Pakistan Super League, Karachi, March 11, 2019. Photo: PSL

The second strength I see in this team is the lower-order hitting. Whilst the likes of Sohaib Maqsood and Umar Amin haven’t impressed, the two West Indian power hitters have consistently delivered for their team. Sammy and Kieron Pollard have rescued Zalmi from various situations throughout PSL4. Having such experienced T20 cricketers is a massive advantage for them going in to the final.

Kieron Pollard and Umar Amin hit unbeaten half-centuries, Multan Sultans v Peshawar Zalmi, Pakistan Super League, Dubai, February 28, 2019. Photo: PSL

Whilst the team looks good on paper, they do have a few weaknesses, most notably their spinner (or lack thereof). Liam Dawson for the majority of the tournament has filled the spinner duties; however, he was dropped in the previous game for Chris Jordan.

I feel in order for Zalmi to best utilise their squad, they should select young leg-spinner Ibtisam Sheikh. Sheikh is a good spinner, who did play at the start of the tournament. In his last game he took two wickets, most notably the wicket of the dangerous Luke Ronchi, therefore I’ve been surprised that he has been excluded for so long.

Predictions

Although it is hard, I have been pressed to make a prediction. Judging by the strengths and weaknesses of the two sides in question, I slightly lean towards Zalmi in the final. It’s a 55-45 lean but due to the strengths mentioned above, largely the strength in pace bowling, I do think Zalmi might have an edge in the final.

In Hasan, Riaz, Jordan and Mills, you have one of the best T20 attacks in the world. And if you add a quality spinner in Sheikh, the team will be very hard to beat.

Photo: Twitter/PSL

However, if Gladiators can somehow cope with the pace attack of Zalmi, it could be a different story. But this is why we love this beautiful game. We never really know what will happen because cricket truly is unpredictable.

Till the next time

Overall, it is sad that PSL season four will come to an end. It has been fantastic, but we are lucky enough to witness one more game; a game that will be better than any other matches that have preceded it because of the competitiveness of both teams and the enormity of the final.

One thing that has gone under the radar is the fantastic pitch produced by the Karachi ground staff.  The pitches have been good enough for batsmen to hit through the line. They’ve also had enough pace and bounce for bowlers to purchase out of the wicket, as well as offer spin to slower men, as Karachi King’s Umer Khan showed.

Whatever happens on Sunday, it will cap off yet another fantastic PSL tournament, and whether it is the Gladiators or the Zalmi who lift the trophy, in the end Pakistan will win.

Till the next time, PSL, I am already looking forward to season five.

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Haroon Ahmed

Haroon Ahmed

The author is a sports writer from the United Kingdom. He tweets @hazharoon (twitter.com/hazharoon)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.