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Multan Sultans blow away Lahore Qalandars to reach third PSL final in a row

After flying high in the group stage, Lahore suffered a stunning defeat at home

Multan Sultans qualified for the final of the eighth season of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) after defeating Lahore Qalandars in a thrilling qualifier at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on Wednesday.

Among the six franchises in the PSL, no two are perhaps more contrasting than Multan Sultans and Lahore Qalandars. The former has a reputation for functioning like a professional corporation, with clear and well-defined roles, and a focus on data and analytics.

Their strength is definitely their batting, with Mohammad Rizwan leading the top order, and a fearsome middle order of Rilee Rossouw, Kieron Pollard, Khushdil Shah, David Miller and Tim David (Miller played only in the first half of the tournament, with David coming in one game before his departure). Their bowling was filled with underdogs, but the likes of Ihsanullah and Abbas Afridi have punched above their weight and are among the top wicket-takers.

Lahore, on the other hand, has a distinctly Pakistani flavour, with the best T20 bowling attack on the planet, a batting order that can either be exhilaratingly good or infuriatingly bad and a bigger focus on the pure skill of big names like Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf, Rashid Khan, Fakhar Zaman and David Wiese.

The first Qualifier at the Gaddafi Stadium highlighted this contrast, as Multan showed their tactical flexibility by batting first after winning the toss for the first time this season. As soon as the first over, it became clear that the conditions were far removed from the batting paradise of Rawalpindi, where Multan racked up 262 in their previous match. The openers, Rizwan and Usman Khan, cognisant of this difference, were far more cautious, but Lahore’s fantastic bowling was no less a factor. The Sultans managed just 46 in the Powerplay, and for the next 9 overs, Rashid Khan and David Wiese dried up the runs. Multan’s top three made 75 runs off 69 balls among them, and they looked headed for a decidedly below-par total.

What sets the Sultans apart from the other franchises, though, is their elite middle order, and it came to their rescue. Tim David began the fireworks by getting a couple of boundaries off Zaman Khan’s 16th over, and then Kieron Pollard, a T20 veteran like no other, tore into Lahore, smashing Haris Rauf and Shaheen Afridi for 5 sixes and a boundary. The Qalandars looked rattled, dropping two easy catches that would have sent both batters back to the dugout. Haris hit back with a fearsome last over, clocking 150+ KPH on almost every ball, and sending Pollard and Khushdil’s stumps cartwheeling.

Multan finished on 160, a defendable total, but even they could not have imagined how easily Lahore would fold. The home side’s previous match against Karachi could have provided an omen of things to come, as they had capitulated meekly while chasing, and if any fans in attendance that day had taken a seat at the Gaddafi Stadium on Wednesday, they probably had a feeling of deja vu after the West Indian left-arm pacer Sheldon Cottrell ripped out the Lahori top order, alongside Anwar Ali, just as Akif Javed and Mohammad Umar had done on Sunday. As Multan’s stalwarts Ihsanullah and Abbas came into the attack, the Qalandars kept swirling downhill and were eventually skittled for 76.

While Lahore’s performance in this Qualifier could seem like an aberration, considering their group stage record, they have lost badly while chasing at home for two matches in a row, one of them against a second-string Karachi side, and will prefer to win the toss and bat in the second Qualifier, against the winner of the Peshawar-Islamabad clash in the Eliminator.

Multan, on the other hand, will walk into the final on Saturday well-rested, full of confidence, and feeling like they have all bases covered. They will be the odds-on favourites to reverse last year’s result in the final, and lift their second PSL trophy.

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