After locking horns in the tournament opener on February 20 in Karachi, United and Gladiators are set to meet again at a new PSL venue - Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium - where we can expect a packed house.
Islamabad United scored 168 that was chased down by Quetta Gladiators with nine balls to spare in the first match of this PSL. David Malan held the innings together for United by thumping a valiant half-century but he didn't get much assistance from his teammates that, in turn, deprived United to post a par-score.
Thereafter, United bounced back strongly against perennially struggling franchise Lahore Qalandars and won a heart-in-mouth affair in the very last over, courtesy of Musa Khan's blinder and skipper Shadab Khan's all-round performance.
United rely heavily on their star-studded opening pair, Luke Ronchi and Colin Munro, to go berserk with the bat in the batting powerplay. They flamboyant openers often decimate the oppositions just like they did against Multan Sultans in the fifth game where both openers sealed the match by smashing fabulous half-centuries. Quetta will be wary of their capabilities and perhaps taking pace off the ball could work in their favour.
Similarly, Quetta have roped in Shane Watson - the highest run-scorer from last season - and Jason Roy, who are renowned match-winners. Roy remained unbeaten in his 73-run blazing innings against Peshawar in the fourth match but in hindsight, he would have liked to improve his strike rate. His role will be to provide a brisk start to Quetta tomorrow.
On the other hand, Quetta boasts a lethal four-pronged pace attack, featuring the likes of tearaway quick Naseem Shah and Mohammad Hasnain. The young quicks are guarded by Sohail Khan and dexterous English seamer Tymal Mills. Gladiators have got the services of a potent spin attack as well whose performances have been overshadowed by the quality pacemen in recent contests.
Both teams have a tendency to lose control from commanding positions and self-destruct. Islamabad would be seeking a riposte after the narrow defeat in Karachi while Quetta look to build on the momentum gained after a close win against Karachi a few days ago.
The pugnacious batsman from Quetta Gladiators, Azam Khan, was adjudged player of the match for his impressive 46-run knock against Karachi Kings in match six of the HBL PSL V. What stood out in his innings was his calmness and composure that he demonstrated conspicuously amidst a tricky situation. Sarfaraz Ahmed took dodgy singles and seemed jittery. There were a couple of run-outs but the partnership between Quetta's skipper and Moin Khan's son turned the tables in the end. Azam has played with prudence and pursued with the natural strokeplay that has paid him rich dividends.
Pace is pace yaar. Thre is nothing that thrills quite like raw pace which Naseem brings to the party. The youngest player to get a fifer and then a hat-trick recently in the Test format took the cricket world by storm. He was riding high on confidence before debuting in PSL and has been the talk of the nation. He showed the first glimpse of his sheer talent against Karachi with searing pace and sharp bumpers. Even though he couldn't get his name in the wickets column, he bowled an economical spell and returned figures of 0/23 in his quota of overs against Karachi Kings in match six.
He is one of the leading all-rounders in PSL as not only he can nail the cunning slower ones but also club meaty blows out of the park. His cameo against Islamabad in the first game of PSL 5 showed the tremendous value he provides to Quetta. He snared three scalps and leaked a mere 31 runs in his spell the other day against United.
The unsung hero who got United over the line against Qalandars hogged the limelight and his performance became the talk of the town. He has been creating headaches for the batsmen with the new ball and in the last game, coming in as the number eleven batsman, he swung his bat like Shahid Afridi used to do in his heydey. Clean hitting and ferociously fast bowling make him indispensable for United's success. He has been regularly chipping in with wickets; 3/30 against Quetta, 1/24 against Multan but he also had one poor day with the ball against Qalandars.
He started off poorly against Quetta but he is now finding his groove. The leggie delivered a solid performance against Qalandars. First up, he picked 2/14 and then followed it up with a crucial half-century that kept United in the hunt in a nerve-wracking game. Both conventional leg-spin and wrong un's were pitched in the right areas and he got the ball to spin prodigiously on a few occasions which is a good omen for United's campaign in this tournament.
The first Test in Pakistan in over ten years hosted by Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium took place in December 2019 where Pakistan and Sri Lanka competed in a rain-truncated match.
One thing that stood out in the two Tests recently hosted at Rawalpindi was the overwhelming crowd presence. The pitch offers some assistance to the bowlers with a bit more purchase as compared to other tracks in the country but it can also create problems for the batsmen with an uneven bounce.