A merciless display of power hitting by Luke Ronchi helped Islamabad United earn a six-wicket win over Lahore Qalandars, whose much-improved batting performance mattered little in the 18th fixture of the Pakistan Super League 2018 at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Thursday.
The big news before the game was that the Qalandars had dropped out-of-form Umar Akmal, bringing in Anton Devcich as his replacement.
The decision instantly proved to be a correct one as Devcich and Fakhar Zaman provided the Qalandars a flying start. Early on, Zaman went after the United bowlers whereas Devcich was happy to play his assistant. By the end of five overs, the Qalandars had amassed 47 runs for no loss — a strong start although starts mean little in Qalandars' games due to their propensity to spectacular crumbles.
Zaman departed in the sixth over, following which Devcich took the torch, freeing up his arms and punishing JP Duminy for three boundaries in the 9th over.
The kiwi southpaw brought up his half century in the 10th over, by the end of which the Qalandars were 94-1 and cruising.
The league's bottom-dwellers lost their second wicket in the 12th over, this time Agha Salman (8) departing off the bowling of Shadab Khan, whose two overs until that point had seen just nine runs conceded, somewhat curtailing the Qalandars' hopes of setting a 200-run target.
Not for the first time and probably not for the last, the Qalandars wasted their flying start, adding just 22 runs between 11th and 15th overs.
With just one-quarter of their innings left, the Qalandars were 116-2.
The miserly Shadab Khan gave away just four runs in the 16th, whereas Faheem Ashraf enhanced his burgeoning reputation by removing both Denesh Ramdin and Devcich (62 off 42) in the 17th over.
On the second ball of the 18th over, skipper Brendon McCullum hit Mohammad Sami for a four — that boundary being the Qalandars' first after 45 balls.
The very next ball, however, McCullum came down the track and slapped Sami for a straight six.
And he treated Ashraf the same way in the 19th — at the end of which the Qalandars were 150-5.
In the final over, McCullum hit another maximum, although this time the route and the execution were completely different.
Thanks to McCullum's (33 off 12) late fireworks, the Qalandars finished with 163-8 — a far cry from the 200-run mark they were on course to achieving but still a more than decent total considering this is the Qalandars we're talking about.
In the second innings, JP Duminy and Luke Ronchi opened for United and came out all guns blazing, hitting Sohail Khan for a boundary each in the second over.
Zaman, the part-timer, had enjoyed some success in the tournament with the ball but it wasn't to be this time; his first over, the overall 3rd, going for 18 runs.
The breakthrough was finally provided by Sunil Narine in the fifth; Duminy was the one to go.
By the end of 5 overs, United were 48-1 and in need of 116 runs — not a tall order by any means considering their deep batting; they have the all-rounder Ashraf batting at number 9.
The incredibly gentle medium pacer Imran Khan Jr was dispatched for this six by the threatening Ronchi, who seemed to be in the same flow he was during his 71-run match-winning knock against Karachi Kings last time out.
The next over he played an exquisite, yet effortless chip over cover off the bowling of Narine.
Shadab soon joined the party, dispatching his fellow leggie Yasir Shah for a six over long-on as United started chipping away at the Qalandars' total.
The New Zealander notched his second-consecutive fifty in the 9th over. Taking just 22 balls, the half-ton was the joint-fastest ever of the T20 tournament.
Shadab hit a six each on the first and the last ball of Salman Irshad's 10th over, by the end of which United were 115-1 and coasting towards their target. They now required just 49 off 60 balls with nine wickets in hand.
The second wicket fell in the 12th over when Imran had Shadab caught at deep midwicket.
The 14th reaped another, this time Narine trapping Asif Ali in front of the wickets.
Ronchi's knock meant that United needed just 15 runs from their last 5 overs and had their fourth win of the tournament almost in the bag.
He couldn't carry the bat though, departing in the 16th over as Narine notched his third wicket.
Misbahul Haq's presence and influence delayed the inevitable but in the end United reached their target with six wickets and 14 balls to spare.
No prizes for guessing who was the man of the match.
Islamabad XI: JP Duminy, L Ronchi (wk), Hussain Talat, Asif Ali, Misbah-ul-Haq (capt.), Sahibzada Farhan, SR Patel, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, ST Finn, Mohammad Sami
Lahore XI: BB McCullum (capt.), Fakhar Zaman, Agha Salman, D Ramdin (wk), SP Narine, AP Devcich, Aamer Yamin, Sohail Khan, Yasir Shah, Salman Irshad, Imran Khan (1)