Kevin Pietersen’s crucial 34-ball 48 helped Quetta Gladiators chase down the modest 135-run target set by Islamabad United in the ninth fixture of the Pakistan Super League 2018 at Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Wednesday.
The Gladiators won the toss and elected to bowl first against Islamabad United, who saw their captain Misbah ul Haq return to the starting line-up after missing the start of the tournament due to a hamstring injury.
Luke Ronchi and Chadwick Walton opened the batting for United, whereas Anwar Ali and Rahat Ali shared the new ball for the Gladiators.
United were dealt the first blow in the third over when Anwar trapped Walton in front of the wickets before his bowling partner removed Asif Ali with a peach of a ball that evoked memories of the great Wasim Akram disturbing Rahul Dravid's stumps all those years ago.
With just 28 runs after 5 overs, Islamabad's Ronchi took it upon himself to accelerate the scoring, plundering John Hastings for 24 runs in his opening over, which could have shifted the momentum towards his side.
However, a few tight overs and Ronchi's dismissal in the ninth over meant any edge United had until that point quickly evaporated.
But with JP Duminy and Misbah in the middle, a total of 150 plus was still expected. While the two veterans stabilised the ship, they wasted too many deliveries, with the South African's painstakingly lethargic 26-ball 14 the main reason United lost their way after Ronchi's sixth over fireworks.
Duminy, on PSL debut, seemed woefully out of form, unable to bank on even two dropped catches by Sarfraz Ahmed. Misbah too had his slice of luck when he was adjudged lbw out before a review got the decision overturned.
Duminy was put out of his misery by Hastings in the 15th over, and soon he was joined in the dugout by Misbah (22 off 25 balls) who, for once, looked every bit of the 43-year-old he is.
Hussain Talat, too, found it hard to get going as the bowlers continued to enjoy the upper hand. Rahat, in particular, was excellent, finishing with stellar figures of 18-2 in his four overs.
Faheem Ashraf was the only exception as he hit Shane Watson for two consecutive sixes in the 19th over, including one which some called a helicopter shot.
But he was run out on the first ball of the final over as setting a 150-run target again seemed a stretch.
Hastings redeemed himself with an excellent final over, picking up two wickets and giving away just six runs as United could muster 134 runs in their 20 overs.
In reply, Asad Shafiq and Watson opened the innings for the Gladiators, with Rumman Raees and Mohammad Sami sharing the new ball for United.
Raees had Watson caught in the third over but replays showed he had overstepped, much to the Australian's relief. Shafiq punished Raees for two boundaries in that very over before Watson launched his own onslaught in the next over, smacking Steven Finn for a six and a four, with the first one a massive maximum that landed outside the stadium.
A few balls later, Watson tried to repeat the same pull shot but ended up giving an easy catch to mid-on instead.
A pumped up Mohammad Sami bowled out Umar Amin the next over, and Shafiq, who for once was looking good in a limited-over match, showed his true colours, hoicking and getting his stumps shattered by Finn.
With three wickets down in three consecutive overs and 87 odd runs still to achieve, the Gladiators were under a bit of pressure as United saw a glimmer of hope. But Kevin Pietersen and Mohammad Nawaz batted responsibly, stopping the leakage of wickets and, bit by bit, taking the game away from the league's inaugural champions.
Pietersen, who recently said he'd retire from cricket at the end of the PSL, showed he still got it.
With a defeat looking inevitable, United were dealt another blow when Raees picked up a serious looking knee injury.
Sami and Shadab bowled a couple of tight overs but defending such a small total was always going to be a difficult task for the bowlers.
Pietersen, after hitting a couple more monstrous sixes, was dismissed by compatriot Steven Finn but it was too little too late. The veteran Englishman had done all the damage. Nawaz and captain Sarfraz saw to it that their side got over the line.
Islamabad United: Luke Ronchi , Chadwick Walton, Asif Ali, Hussain Talat, Misbah ul Haq*, Shadab Khan, JP Duminy, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Sami, Rumman Raees, Steven Finn
Quetta Gladiators: Asad Shafiq, Shane Watson, Umar Amin, Kevin Pietersen, John Hastings, Sarfraz Ahmed*, Mohammad Nawaz, Hasan Khan, Anwar Ali, Mahmudullah, Rahat Ali