Islamabad United face a tricky situation in their all-important match against Lahore Qalandars in Karachi on Saturday as the Pakistan Super League returns to Pakistan after 26 matches in the United Arab Emirates.
Islamabad – winners of the first edition in 2016 and then again in 2018 – are in an uncertain territory with eight points in nine games, and badly need a win to qualify for the play-offs for which Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi have already qualified.
In the case of a loss, the fate of the title-holders will rest on the results of Lahore’s last game against Multan Sultans and the two matches Karachi Kings will play against Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators.
Islamabad captain Mohammad Sami showed confidence his team can pull-off a win and qualify for the last stages.
“I think this is the right time to peak,” said Sami on Friday as teams started practising at the refurbished National Stadium in Karachi.
“Maybe players have not done well in the last few matches, but everyone knows that now is the right time to peak and do well in the knock-out games. So, I hope the players will do well in these matches,” said Sami.
“But one must consider that T20 cricket is tough and a player cannot perform all the time.”
Islamabad United were in a good position until they lost to Peshawar by four wickets, followed by their 43-run defeat against Quetta Gladiators. Both losses pegged them back.
But, Islamabad can take heart from the fact that they were in a similar situation in 2016 before they won the last two matches, the Eliminator, and then the second Qualifier before lifting the silverware.
Lahore are once again in the danger zone, with just six points from their eight games, and have also lost their key batsman AB de Villiers.
The South African maestro injured his back and had to abandon his plans to tour Pakistan for the last two round matches.
A defeat will eliminate them from the league and a similar fate after they ended fifth and last in the first two editions and sixth and last in 2018.
But their captain Fakhar Zaman hoped his team can lift the tempo.
“We know these two matches are very important for us,” said Fakhar. “We are up to the challenge and hope that two wins will take us to the play-offs.”
“We will try to do our best because these are very crucial matches. I am not taking any pressure and captaincy is a challenge for me. I have done it before but not at this big level,” said Fakhar who replaced de Villiers as captain.
Regular captain Mohammad Hafeez was also ruled out after just two matches, having fractured his thumb.