Islamabad United’s pursuit of retaining the Pakistan Super League was injected with new life thanks to a five-wicket win over Quetta Gladiators, orchestrated by the brilliance of Sam Billings.
Billings’ match-winning 78* was a thing of beauty, lifting an Islamabad side still swaying from the spot fixing scandal that has left a smear stain on the tournament.
Early on, all eyes were on Islamabad’s Mohammad Irfan after being cleared of any wrongdoing in those fixing claims upon his return to the team.
Nicknamed Islamabad’s very own Burj Khalifa by team-mate Billings, Irfan failed to make an impact but seeing him back in a red shirt provided a boost to the reigning champions.
For Quetta, Kevin Pietersen’s woes with the bat continued, his valiant effort in his bat carrying support for saving the rhino unable to coincide with a successful salvage job on his own poor form.
The former England man suffered his second successive golden duck of the tournament, meaning he has just three runs from nine balls in three PSL outings this season.
With the likes of compatriot Luke Wright and local lad Bismillah Khan itching for a go in the Quetta dugout, the time will soon come when Pietersen’s position in the team will be under threat despite being the franchise’s marquee signing.
The in-form Rilee Rossouw – who scored 60 and 76* respectively in his previous two outings – departed for just seven, Quetta struggling on a typically tacky wicket.
Asad Shafiq anchored the innings with 45 from 42 balls before a late charge from Mahmudullah (29*) and Thisara Perera (27) saw them to a competitive 148-6.
Islamabad’s night and day opening pair of belligerent Sam Billings and steady hand Dwayne Smith took up the challenge before the latter departed for 10 from 15 balls, nine of which were dots.
Smith’s pace was in stark contrast to the bludgeoning Billings who bristled throughout, finding the boundary with more regularity than any batsmen on display.
Equally, the Englishman looked the most elegant and in tune with both conditions and his game.
Billings used his feet to perfection against spin and played everything late, attributes so crucial to success in Sharjah on wickets where the ball sticks in the pitch.
He was aided by some brutal Shane Watson (36) hitting before Billings fittingly sealed a much-needed victory for his team by smashing the first ball of the last over for four.
Senior police officers were also believed to be killed by the suspected suicide bomber, which targeted a demonstration from medical shop owners unhappy with changes to drug laws in the region.
Peshawar Zalmi edged out Quetta by the skin of their teeth on Sunday night in a low-scoring, nail-biter in Dubai, the former winning with only three wickets and three overs in hand in pursuit of just 60 runs for victory.
The match pitted against each other the only two teams without suspicions raised over their players in the weekend’s spot fixing scandal that rocked the tournament.
Those clouds figuratively lingering over this year’s PSL, were as intimidating as the literal ones hovering the stadium at the start of play.
Thankfully, the rain didn’t fall and both sides offered a welcome distraction to the fixing revelations, but the Lahore floodgates certainly opened once being put into bat.
The Qalandars were all at sea throughout their innings, seemingly no-one able or willing to bat the overs and haul their side back into contention of at least putting up a defendable total.
As the night wore on, that figure diminished at an alarming rate.
Once they were 27-4 and three of their overseas players back in the hutch, the team desperately needed someone to shoulder responsibility but, bar Fakhar Zaman (33 off 19), not a single player steeped up to the plate.
Each of trio Brendon McCullum, Umar Akmal and Grant Elliott making three-ball ducks was poetic; in its symmetry and its summation of the state of play.
More popcorn than people. Definitely more than Lahore Qalandars runs. Woeful 59 all-out, that order shouldn't fail like that. pic.twitter.com/Y0V20jVDLz— Barny Read (@BarnabyRead) February 12, 2017
Hasan Ali (3-23) did the majority of the damage, Chris Jordan mopping up the tail with 2-8 in just eight balls.
It was a fruitful night for the entirety of the Peshawar attack, Mohammad Asghar, Mohammad Hafeez, Wahab Riaz and Shahid Afridi all picking up a wicket apiece as every bowler chipped in.
That was the sum of the Lahore generosity, not one of their batsmen discriminating in their submission with the bat.
Their eventual 59 all-out was the tournament’s lowest ever but the Peshawar run-chase was far from as straight forward as it should have been early on.
Dawid Malan (1) and Mohammad Hafeez (3) both perished early to leave Peshawar 4-2 in the third over, the latter continuing a woeful run at this season’s tournament which included two ducks in his past two matches.
Sunil Narine (2-16) and Yasir Shah (4-7) set up a grand finish but their team ultimately came up short in a night high on drama.