After notching up their first win of the Abu Dhabi leg of the 2021 Pakistan Super League (PSL), Islamabad United face the high-flying Lahore Qalandars in Match 20 at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on June 13.
Islamabad United and the Lahore Qalandars met only four days ago on June 9, with the latter emerging triumphant by five wickets. But the match was closer than it looked on paper as Rashid Khan launched a late assault to take his team over the line in the final over.
In their previous game, Islamabad recovered from their loss to the Qalandars by thrashing the Quetta Gladiators by 10 wickets. Usman Khawaja and Colin Munro amassed the fastest century stand in PSL history against a toothless Gladiators attack after Shadab Khan's bowlers did their job.
The Qalandars, on the other hand, capitalized on their win over Islamabad by vanquishing the Peshawar Zalmi by 10 runs. Rashid Khan was once again the star of the show with a five-wicket haul as Shoaib Malik's valiant knock went in vain.
This top-of-the-table clash promises entertainment. The Qalandars are at the PSL 2021 summit with five wins from six games and a net run rate of +0.15 and Islamabad aren't far behind in second with four wins from six games and a net run rate of +0.896. Both teams will seal top spot with a win in Match 20.
PSL 2021: ISL vs LAH Match Prediction
Can Islamabad United counter the Rashid Khan threat? Four days ago, they couldn't. The Afghanistan spinner sent down four overs while conceding only nine runs, with the batsmen having no answer to his bag of tricks. And in this evening fixture, Rashid will have a massive impact once again.
The Lahore Qalandars bowling attack isn't completely dependent on Rashid, though. Haris Rauf and Shaheen Shah Afridi are world-class T20 operators, while savvy veteran James Faulkner has turned out to be an inspired signing in the PSL 2021 replacement draft.
The key men in the Qalandars batting - Fakhar Zaman and Mohammad Hafeez - are yet to click, with the team relying on a lower-order partnership between Ben Dunk and Tim David to take them to a competitive total in the previous game. If they come to the party, Sohail Akhtar's side will be almost impossible to stop in PSL 2021.
Meanwhile, Islamabad United's middle-order batsmen are yet to prove themselves, which isn't a good sign ahead of their toughest test yet. New signing Khawaja and Munro were exceptional against the Gladiators, but an early wicket or two could expose the weak underbelly soon after the powerplay.
And the Islamabad bowling, which was mightily impressive in the previous game, arguably doesn't have enough big names and skill to trouble the Qalandars' stacked lineup. With lead pacer Hasan Ali having withdrawn from PSL 2021 due to family commitments, Shadab Khan might find himself shorthanded in Match 20.
With this match being the first of two on a double-header Sunday, dew may not play a massive role. And if the surface is slightly sticky like it usually is in the afternoon fixtures, the Qalandars could hold the edge.
It's tough to pick against the Lahore Qalandars, who beat Islamabad United very recenty and are riding a wave of momentum in PSL 2021. They also have the stronger squad on paper.
Prediction: Lahore Qalandars to win