The Peshawar Zalmi thrashed the Karachi Kings by 24 runs in the final playoff of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) at Dubai's International Cricket Stadium on Friday, taking them to the PSL finals in Lahore on March 5 opposite the Quetta Gladiators.
The Karachi Kings choked under the pressure of the unassailable 182-run target bolstered by a flurry of boundaries from the Zalmi who won the toss and opted to field.
A solid 97-run partnership between Kamran Akmal and Dawid Malan ─ propped up by nine fours and four sixes off the first 10 overs ─ was reportedly the best opening stand for the Zalmi in the PSL.
Akmal, who smashed a century off 60 balls ─ the first century this season ─ also hit a personal milestone of 4,000 Twenty20 runs this innings. He was awarded Man of the Match.
The uninspired second innings played by the blue shirts was dotted with dot balls and singles, with middle-order wickets falling thick and fast. The blue shirts' count of 23 runs during the powerplay is the lowest score in a powerplay in PSL history.
The high-scorers for the Kings were Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard, with 40 and 47 runs respectively, but even the West Indian batsmen were unable to salvage what was left of the innings after early wickets fell quickly.
Shahid Afridi was benched after sustaining a hand injury while fielding during the second innings. He may have to sit out the final.
The Kings were well-placed to win the match after winning five of the last six games despite opening the tournament with three straight defeats.
However, the Peshawar Zalmi, who were still recovering from the heartrending one-run loss in the first playoff to Quetta on Tuesday, appear to have retained a psychological edge over Karachi on the basis of three victories in the four matches played against the blue shirts.
The Zalmi were missing Morgan, Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan in today's game because of national duty, and will not be led by skipper Darren Sammy in the final at Lahore.
Speaking to Ramiz Raja after the match, Sammy agreed the game was an "emotionally draining" one.
"Kamran played an amazing innings... Polly [Pollard] and Gayle started the revival, but we held our nerve. It's good to win a tough one," Sammy said.
Kings captain Sangakkara praised his team for their effort. "I'm very proud of the Karachi boys. It was an outstanding fightback from almost being out of the tournament to playing the semi. Zalmi played an outstanding game today."
"Kamran batted beautifully, put a lot of pressure on us. Our bowlers also did well. We didn't have any partnerships to start off with, and the first six overs are crucial. You need to take at least one or two wickets if you're bowling," he said.
"It's great that cricket is going back to Pakistan," he added. Today's match was Sangakkara's 100th T20 match as a captain.
Babar Azam, RS Bopara, CH Gayle, Hasan Mohsin, Imad Wasim, DPMD Jayawardene, Kashif Bhatti, Khurram Manzoor, R McLaren, Mohammad Amir, KA Pollard, Rahat Ali, Saifullah Bangash, KC Sangakkara (C), Shoaib Malik, Sohail Khan, Usama Mir, Usman Khan.
Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imran Khan (1), CJ Jordan, Junaid Khan, Kamran Akmal, DJ Malan, Mohammad Asghar, Mohammad Hafeez, EJG Morgan, DJG Sammy (C), MN Samuels, Shahid Afridi, Shakib Al Hasan, Sohaib Maqsood, Tamim Iqbal, Wahab Riaz.