KARACHI - Another big match. Another big occasion. The Pakistan Super League has truly proved a blessing for Pakistan cricket in many ways as from nurturing the budding talent to make the international cricket return back to Pakistan it has served the country beyond those goals for which such cash-rich and money-oriented Twenty20 cricket leagues are being run across the globe.

Last year it was the PSL final in Lahore that paved way for the return of international cricket to the country. This year it is again the PSL final that is improving the Pakistan’s credentials as a safe and secure country to host the international cricketers at multiple venues.

The National Stadium will light up today to welcome cricket’s homecoming to Pakistan’s biggest city Karachi, as fans will flock to the sold-out National Stadium in thousands to witness two great teams face off against each other for PSL 2018 trophy.

The focus of the event has been the extraordinary security in the city, but there's plenty to focus on as far as the cricket is concerned, too. Neither of the teams is any stranger to the gold: Islamabad United, under the sure-footed leadership of Misbah-ul-Haq, lifted the inaugural PSL trophy in 2016. Peshawar Zalmi, led by the charismatic Darren Sammy, were crowned the champions in 2017.  There seems to be no real weak link in either team, as both are laden with experienced batsmen from top to middle, and boast powerful bowling attacks.

After beating Karachi Kings in the second eliminator on Wednesday, Peshawar Zalmi took their tally of overall wins to 19 - the most by any team in the PSL. But guess who's right behind? Islamabad United, with 18 wins. Sunday's contest will truly be between the two best teams of PSL, and only the better team will win.

A party is in store for the cricket fans in Karachi who have been bereft of any high-profile game since February 2009 when Pakistan had faced Sri Lanka in a Test match. A high-octane clash would be an ideal finish to the season and would also provide for a sumptuous treat to the cricket-deprived in this part of Pakistan.

United had an easier path into the final - having topped the table, they had two chances to make it through and they needed only one as they eased past Karachi Kings in the first Qualifier. Zalmi, on the other hand, finished third on the points table and needed to win two matches in order to book a date with United. They had almost bowed out of the tournament when Quetta Gladiators' Anwar Ali, scored 22 in the first five deliveries of the final over of the first Eliminator, bowled by Liam Dawson, with 25 required. However, Zalmi prevailed in a nervy finish and then overcame Kings by 13 runs to make it to the final game.

Entering the final with an unbeaten run of four games, Zalmi will be banking on their chief contributor with the bat - Kamran Akmal - to come good again. With three fifty-plus scores in the last four matches, including an unbeaten 61-ball 107 against Lahore Qalandars, Akmal has stormed to the top of the run-getters chart, both this season and overall, and will be keen to deliver again for the team. Another key batsman in the line-up is Mohammad Hafeez, who has had several promising starts but hasn't been able to capitalise on it, and he'll be eager to make amends in the all-important game. Andre Fletcher and Dawson complete a solid top order that has been amongst the runs. Zalmi also have a quality bowling department that has been delivering on a consistent basis. Apart from spearheads Hasan Ali and Wahab Riaz, 19-year-old pacer Sameen Gul and Umaid Asif, the 33-year-old quick, have also been on the mark, leaving skipper Darren Sammy little in terms of worries.

United too have a wicketkeeper-batsman who has been at the forefront of their victories, with Luke Ronchi occupying the third spot on this year's top-scorers' chart. His four fifty-plus scores have come in the last six encounters, including an unbeaten 94 at a strike rate of over 241 against Kings in the last game. In spite of not having batted in the previous game and a score of 4 in the one before that, skipper Duminy has made useful contributions throughout the tournament and he'll be hoping to lead from the front in the final, versus the same team against which he had registered an unbeaten 73 in the league stage - his highest in the competition so far. United are also with three bowlers in the top 10 wicket-takers' chart this year - Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Sami and Samit Patel. The former tops the bowlers' chart in this edition and is also the bowler to have taken most wickets in a single edition, which augurs well for the 2016 champions, who'll be aiming for victory No 8 this year and square with Zalmi for most wins in the history of the PSL (19).

Despite safety concerns among foreign players overshadowing the games themselves, both teams have managed to retain the services of most of their best overseas players for the marquee game. This was in stark contrast to last year, when all of Quetta Gladiators' foreign players pulled out while Peshawar Zalmi fielded a full-strength side.

Misbah ul Haq missed the Qualifier with a hairline fracture in his wrist. The 43-year-old has been struggling for fitness, and will miss the final. Islamabad are likely to stick to their combination from the Dubai game where they beat Karachi Kings by eight wickets with 45 balls to spare. One enforced change will be the absence of Alex Hales, who pulled out due to security concerns.

For Zalmi, Tamim Iqbal is unavailable due to injury. Kamran Akmal has been playing despite a stiff neck and a hamstring niggle but with three days of rest before the game should have had enough time to regain his fitness. Peshawar are likely to retain their winning combination.

The National Stadium Karachi has, over the years, largely been isolated, only hosting domestic cricket, but the infrastructure was put back together a few months before the game. The stadium is still under renovation, but the facility was prepared enough to make sure it was able to get going for the important game.

SQUADS:

ISLAMABAD UNITED:

Jean-Paul Duminy (c), Luke Ronchi (wk), Chadwick Walton, Hussain Talat, Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Amad Butt, Zafar Gohar, Steven Finn, Mohammad Hasan, Samit Patel, Samuel Badree, Mohammad Sami, Rohail Nazir, Iftikhar Ahmed, Sahibzada Farhan

PESHAWAR ZALMI:

Darren Sammy (c), Kamran Akmal (wk), Andre Fletcher, Mohammad Hafeez, Saad Nasim, Liam Dawson, Umaid Asif, Wahab Riaz, Hasan Ali, Sameen Gul, Chris Jordan, Riki Wessels, Khushdil Shah, Khalid Usman, Mohammad Asghar, Ibtisam Sheikh, Hammad Azam, Haris Sohail, Tamim Iqbal.