The PSL final, in terms of its symbolic value, was proven to be an unmitigated success. Regardless of the costs and priorities involved, or the impact it had on the cricket itself, the entire final took place in Lahore, with foreign players, and went off without any hitches.
But as a cricketing spectacle, it was largely disappointing and saved primarily from being disastrous by the presence of Darren Sammy, the Peshawar Zalmi captain. Quetta Gladiators came into the match bereft of their foreign stars, unlike Peshawar, and thus were always up against it. The losses of Rilee Russow and Kevin Pietersin were always going to be significant given how central they were to the team’s batting. And this was a team that banked on its batting, showing a penchant for scoring big as well as conceding big. Twice it won scoring 200, but each time the bowling conceded almost the same too. Moreover, Rilee and KP were both amongst the top run-scorers in the tournament, while their replacements lasted sixteen balls to score four, momentum choking runs.
This isn’t to blame the replacements but point out how inadequate they were, which isn’t surprising given they were plucked last minute from obscurity and asked to play with a completely new side for a massive final. In contrast, Reyad Emrit was probably a more than decent replacement for Tymal Mills, but his success was boosted by the fact that the pitch wasn’t a featherbed. The apparent change in pace made all batsmen struggle, with only six batsmen out of both sides scoring over 100 SR. Of course, even Emrit was powerless in front of one batsman, and that turned the momentum of the game around.
In many ways, Zalmi had been hurt by the absence of foreigners too, but their poor planning had seen most of their core players - Eoin Morgan, Tamim Iqbal, Shakib ul Hasan - leave earlier due to pre-announced national commitments. Ironically, this meant that they had more time to prepare with a second string of stars and thus were less awkward in the final. Nevertheless, their story was built around two stalwarts. Apart from Sammy's contribution, Kamran Akmal’s 40 was comfortably the top score of the final, and it was the difference between the two sides. He ended the tournament as its top scorer, and his innings prevented his side from splintering too early.
In that context, Sean Ervine flying in and topscoring for his side was testament to his remarkable cricket but in all honesty it spoke more about the Gladiator collapse. Sarfaraz’s wicket felt the most criminal, given that he had seemed to have taken the moment in his own hands right before he fell. Ahmad Shehzad, their only other major star, was far more disappointing though given the form he had brought to the final in his hometown. Yet during his brief stay he seemed spooked by the occasion, looking completely out of sorts. For both of these players, the losses of the batting mainstays required that they step up, and both failed to do so.
What turned it all around, and saved this match was the powerful blitz by Darren Sammy at the end. His impact on the final was more than just those runs however. Sammy had been the most old-school captain in this PSL, preferring to lead by his personality and instincts rather than fashioning a particular strategy. He had announced that he would travel to the final only with his own side (given there was an option for losing teams to given up their foreign players in a draft) then apparently was the one who brought up the issue of why Pakistani cricketers weren’t earning more. And his celebrations in the buildup and at the end gave the event the spectacle it needed and deserved.
But if we just speak about those runs, then those alone made this a worthy occasion. Sammy dragged the score to just about par, and suddenly made all of Quetta’s quiet dominance with the ball feel slightly futile. It meant that there was more pressure than expected on a brand new top order and the suddenness with which it imploded confirmed that fact. More importantly, they injected some quality into the final, as Sammy’s power hitting was one of the few truly world class things on display.
For Quetta, their decision to build their side around a core of Karachi players seems to have made them inherit Karachi’s domestic T20 luck as well. This was their second straight PSL final defeat, though given the huge mismatch caused by events out of their control, this felt much crueler. The side was comfortably the best in a much closer PSL this year, and to lose the final with a toothless side felt a perversion of their achievements. With all the symbolism focusing on events well beyond cricket, their cricketing misfortunes just weren’t important enough.