Lahore Qalandars 176 for 6 (Baig 54, Billings 28, Omarzai 2-31) beat Peshawar Zalmi 171 for 5 (Haris 85, Babar 42, Zaman 2-20) by four wickets
In the first four years of the PSL, the Lahore Qalandars squad would have been on holiday, or back home in front of the telly by this stage of the competition. But those dark days are a distant memory now, with the defending champions sweeping past a valiant challenge from Peshawar Zalmi by four wickets to book their spot in their third final in four years.
Zalmi opted to bat at the toss, fully cognisant that the Qalandars were yet to win chasing this season, and no chasing side had triumphed yet at the Gaddafi Stadium this year. Saim Ayub was cleaned up early by Zaman Khan, but Babar Azam and Haris struck up an imposing partnership to set a platform. Haris was in superb striking form once more, a six and a four off the first three balls he faced from Shaheen a statement of intent. Babar joined in from the other end and by the end of the powerplay, Zalmi had put up 54, set up to go bigger.
Babar failed to take the next step up, though, and his strike rate stalled. Haris Rauf was hard to get away in the middle overs, but Haris clobbered Rashid Khan for 14 in his first over to keep Qalandars under pressure. Even Babar went after Rashid with a pair of boundaries to kick off his second. But Rashid hit back, taking two wickets in his third, breaking the stand with Babar’s wicket and removing Tom Kohler-Cadmore for a duck. And while Haris continued to club away, plundering another 13 off Rashid’s final over, the runs from the other end were drying up.
Shaheen had held Haris back for three overs at the death, and Zalmi found him difficult to get away. David Wiese’s variations in pace, too, proved tricky to attack, while, crucially, Shaheen nabbed Haris off the final ball of his spell. The young Zalmi batter had kept his strike rate up, but as he departed for 85, Zalmi’s momentum was ebbing away. Haris said at the halfway mark that the 171 they had posted was well above par, but the Qalandars weren’t to be fooled.
Baig got the Qalandars running with a six in the first over, but Zalmi had a huge breakthrough immediately. Fakhar Zaman swung and missed as Azmatullah Omarzai hit middle stump, and rookie allrounder Azmat Hafeez departed soon after following a breezy 15. Abdullah Shafique, too, was only at the crease for a short while, contributing a 31-run stand with Baig before a mix up ran him out.
But Zalmi might have been lulled into a false sense of security with these regular breakthroughs. The Qalandars didn’t have a huge individual scorer a la Haris, or one big stand like the Babar-Haris partnership, but these small cameos and gritty partnerships were furtively knocking off the runs. Sam Billings and Baig put on 50 in 28 balls to guarantee the run rate was no longer an issue before Baig feathered one through off Aamer Jamal, but the match situation was set up perfectly for finishers like Billings and Sikandar Raza.
They wouldn’t be there till the very end, but they got close enough. There was a 28-run partnership, and a 28-ball 21 for Billings complemented by 23 off 14 from Raza. Both had their stumps knocked back with the Qalandars still a trickle of runs away, but the dam Zalmi had set up in defence of their total had finally burst.
The coup de grace was delivered, in style, by the Qalandars’ swaggering young captain, a wallop over mid-on followed by a lofted straight drive for six by Shaheen Afridi to seal the win. He held that Adonis-like pose for exaggerated effect as the Qalandars booked their spot in the final, a repeat of last year’s trophy match between the defending champions and Multan Sultans. He may yet go on to hold the trophy once more.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000