Qalandars look to maintain winning start, Gladiators eye revival


KARACHI: As Lahore Qalandars prepare to extend their winning run in the HBL Pakistan Super League 6 when they take on the winless Multan Sultans in the first fixture of Friday’s double header, former champions Quetta Gladiators are in need of a major overhaul.

But the most heartening development on Thursday was the news concerning fans. For the remaining 14 round-robin games of the Karachi leg, the attendance has been increased from 20% to 50%, meaning half of the 34,000-plus capacity at the National Stadium would be allowed in as per the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the Covid-19 protocols.

Welcoming the decision taken by the National Command Operations Centre (NCOC), PCB chief executive Wasim Khan, however, observed that the crowds coming for the matches in Karachi would be monitored before finalising plans the for the remaining 10 matches of the league phase in the metropolis.

“There is no doubt in our mind that we’ll continue to assess how the crowds follow and implement the protocols before we make a final call about attendances for the matches in Lahore [where the government has allowed 100% attendance during the playoffs],” Wasim said, while appealing to spectators to wear masks, maintain social distancing, and regularly use hand sanitisers within the premises of the stadium.

So there is an additional incentive for the six teams who will be hoping for the buzz of around 17,000 spectators adding colour and support for the players on each match day from now on, and certainly Quetta will surely appreciate it more than any other side after two shambolic performances, which saw their captain Sarfaraz Ahmed lost his cool on the field.

50% attendance allowed for remaining NSK games

The return of legendary fast bowler Dale Steyn — who has completed the mandatory three-day quarantine — could be the edge Sarfaraz will welcome with open arms after Quetta’s bowling was all over the place in their early two matches, particularly when Fakhar Zaman and Mohammad Hafeez were taking them to the cleaners and thereby carried Lahore Qalandars to a nine-wicket romp on Monday.

Since then Chris Gayle has flown home for national duty with the West Indies great being replaced by Faf du Plessis, the former South Africa skipper who is almost certain to come into the playing XI alongside compatriot Steyn.

And although a lot can happen during the coming days, the evidence of the opening games clearly suggests that the vital tool for success is not how the respective squads stack up in terms of depth and confidence, but the toss. All six matches so far — including one afternoon encounter — have been won by the teams winning the toss and, purposely, bowling first.

The first two HBL PSL matches were on the low-scoring side but the last two had endless entertainment as totals of 190-plus — posted by Multan Sultans and Karachi Kings — were nonchalantly chased down by Peshawar Zalmi and Islamabad United, respectively.

Not even HBL PSL 6’s first three-figure innings — Sharjeel Khan, who thrashed a scintillating 105 off mere 59 deliveries against his former franchise Islamabad United on Wednesday night — could save holders Karachi Kings from losing by five wickets just 24 hours after Haider Ali had stunned Multan Sultans with an eight-ball cameo of 24 to take Peshawar Zalmi home with one over remaining.

Peshawar Zalmi — champions in 2017 — have been involved in some thrilling battles with Quetta Gladiators, winning seven and losing eight in 16 fixtures, since the competition began in 2016 when everything appeared surreal in the offshore surroundings of the UAE.

Lahore Qalandars are obviously oozing with confidence while currently sitting at the top of the table but they now have to take the field without Rashid Khan — the top-ranked bowler in the ICC T20 bowling chart — after the spinning wizard had to leave for national duty with Afghanistan for their upcoming series against Zimbabwe.

Multan Sultans, meanwhile, hope their captain Mohammad Rizwan and James Vince maintain their excellent start with the bat, but their bowling is certainly a worrying factor for head coach Andy Flower.