Karachi Kings once again live to fight another day in this year’s Pakistan Super League with a six-wicket win over Islamabad at Dubai International Stadium.
In a day dominated by rain in Dubai, Karachi progressed at the expense of Lahore Qalandars to set up a second Qualifying Final showdown in Sharjah on March 1 in a repeat of Sunday night’s match.
It means the first knockout fixtures are exact replicas of 2016, with Peshawar and Quetta meeting in the first Qualifying Final on Tuesday, March 28, also in Sharjah.
It was not until 8:30pm that the Islamabad squad, umpires and match referees reached the stadium but their arrival coincided with the cessation of the rain.
Karachi Kings had already been walking around the ground by then, probably hoping the rain would hold out, knowing that shared points was enough to guarantee their safe passage to the second Qualifying Final but defeat could see them crash out the tournament.
But they were made to earn their place in the next stage, a 15-over match finally getting underway at 9:30pm, a whole hour and a half after the scheduled start but a miraculous turnaround for a stadium deluged by the day’s persistent rain across Dubai.
That the game went ahead was testament to the superb work of head groundsman Tony Hemming and his team who lived up to their pre-match assurances that the pitch and outfield would need just half an hour to clear once the rain stopped.
Once play was possible, Karachi put Islamabad into bat, the reigning champions 123-7 thanks largely to leading run-scorer Dwayne Smith’s 49.
It meant Karachi needed a minimum of 111 in their chase to qualify and knock out Lahore Qalandars.
And Karachi were a team possessed in their run-chase, Chris Gayle finally showing something like his best form after being restored to the starting lineup with a punishing 44 from just 17 balls, an innings that included two fours and five sixes.
Kieron Pollard and Ravi Bopara then first saw their side over the 111-run threshold before sealing victory with a ball remaining to take yet more momentum into the knockout stages of the tournament.
Peshawar Zalmi guaranteed their place in the top-two of the Pakistan Super League and their spot in Tuesday’s first Qualifying Final thanks to a classic Shahid Afridi innings that downed Quetta Gladiators Saturday night.
Afridi entered the picture with his side in dire need of inspiration and he provided just that with 45 from 23 balls at a strike-rate of 195 to see his side home with four balls to spare and just two wickets in hand.
It was another woeful night for Quetta who has now snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in their last two matches to move from top to second and in danger of ending up third and in need of at least two more wins to reach the final.
After being put into bat, Quetta’s total of 128 all-out was well below par, even on a slow pitch taking sharp, big turn.
That they got as many as they did was down to an 86-run partnership between Kevin Pietersen (41) and Rilee Rossouw (38), with only Mohammad Nawaz (18) the only Gladiator to reach double figures.
Peshawar would have been delighted with their bowling display, Hasan Ali (2-22) and Wahab Riaz (2-17) the standout seamers, while Mohammad Asghar (3-33) impressed with his slow left-armers as the 18-year-old registered his best bowling figures of the PSL to date.
But the Zalmi response began awfully as they slumped to 89-7 by the time Mohammad Hafeez departed for a laboured 22.
He and Kamran Akmal (26) were the only batsmen in the top-seven to pass seven runs but both scored at below a run-a-ball.
There was no impetus in the Peshawar chase but, typically, Afridi wasn’t going down without a fight and two boundaries from number 10 Hasan meant Peshawar needed just seven to win.
An Afridi four first ball meant the rest was elementary.
Karachi Kings saviour Kieron Pollard’s last-ball heroics on Saturday night saw his team remain in the tournament by the skin of their teeth and while it seemed like no-one else in the Dubai stadium were confident of a Karachi win, Pollard was.
The West Indian hit two sixes off the final two balls of the match to leave Karachi within one final win of reaching the Qualifying Finals of this year’s PSL.
With 28 needed off the final two overs and then 10 from the last two balls, it looked far more likely that Karachi would make an ignominious exit at the group stage and Lahore Qalandars safely into the next phase of the competition.
Pollard explained that his priority was to make contact with the ball first, confident that he had the ability to clear the boundary despite the heightened pressure.
First of all, to keep a cool head, we’re just trying to make contact with the deliveries first,” he said. “To get runs, you have to make contact with the ball and it’s just a matter of making contact.
“And with keeping calm when you look at it, it’s just a cricket match at the end of the day. Yes, if we had lost we’d have got knocked out but it’s not a life or death situation so it makes no sense stressing too much about it. There’s so many things in life to stress about than stressing in a cricket match.”
Aamer Yamin was the bowler that bore the brunt of Pollard’s belligerence and the West Indian all-rounder believes his reputation for such powerful hitting puts pressure on the bowler despite the odds being stacked in their favour.
“Obviously my reputation around the world is for hitting sixes so obviously I know once I’m there that the bowler is going to be under pressure as well and it’s just a matter of trying to execute and getting ball on to bat and luckily enough tonight it went our way,” he added before explaining that such a dramatic win will boost Karachi but they are keenly aware of how tough their route to the title is.
“In T20 cricket these sort of games change momentum,” said Pollard. “Guys start to believe a bit more and that’s what we need in our dressing room.
“We had a frank chat today at the hotel and we knew we had to come up and come out big tonight. It’s a big task because to go all the way through now, we have to win four games but at the end of the day we live to see another day.”