Kamran Akmal's swashbuckling 75-run innings for Peshawar Zalmi in a pressure situation helped his side defeat Karachi Kings by 44 runs in the 27th fixture of the Pakistan Super League 2018 in Sharjah on Thursday.
After captain Darren Sammy won the toss and opted to bat first, the start to Zalmi's innings was surprisingly poor. The opening Mohammad Amir over saw just two runs scored whereas Usman Khan Shinwari castled Mohammad Hafeez in the second over — at the end of which Zalmi were 3-1 and struggling.
Runs were hard to come by in 3rd and 4th overs as well, at which point Zalmi were 11-1 and playing at Test match pace in a T20 encounter.
The innings finally picked up pace in the 5th over when Kamran Akmal hit two 6s off Mohammad Irfan Jr. Both hits were pretty but the first one was pretty long as well, landing on the roof of the stadium.
His partner Dwayne Smith hit two maximums of his own in the 7th over bowled by Usama Mir. But while he had great success against the young leg-spinner, he had nothing going against Karachi's other, more experienced leggie: Shahid Afridi.
The veteran had the West Indian holed out at the long-on fence.
That wicket and Afridi's excellent bowling resulted in some tight overs as the run rate dropped once again. Halfway through their innings, Zalmi were 58-2 needed to score at least 10 an over from here on to put a decent total on the board.
Mir had become a favourite of Zalmi batsmen so when the ball was tossed to him in the 11th over Akmal's eyes lit up. The veteran wicketkeeper-batsman smacked a 6 and a 4 to bring up his half-century — his third of PSL 2018.
Afridi had conceded 13 runs in his first three overs but his fourth was plundered for 21 runs — most of which came off the willow of Akmal.
Even Saad Nasim showed little respect to the experienced Afridi, dancing down the track and dispatching one over his head.
Akmal, whose form in PSL 2018 has been the polar opposite of his younger sibling Umar Akmal, blasted another six in the 15th — at the end of which Zalmi were 117-3.
His swashbuckling innings finally ended in the 16th over when Shinwari, reintroduced into the attack, got his side the breakthrough they so badly needed.
Akmal departed having contributed a potentially match-winning 51-ball 75 laced with half a dozen 6s and three 4s.
The loss of a set batsman at such junctures usually slow down the innings but it didn't this time. In fact, Zalmi found an even higher gear — if that was possible — much of which had to do with their captain Darren Sammy's arrival at the crease.
The casualty was the poor Irfan Jr, whose 17th over saw the ball sail over the boundary line four times — three of which were on consecutive balls and hit by Sammy. That over saw Zalmi's score increase by a staggering 28 runs.
Watch and wonder:
In the 18th over bowled by Mohammad Amir, Saad Nasim hit a hat-trick of boundaries of his own, although his route wasn't aerial a la Sammy's in the previous over.
Almost all Karachi bowlers were taken to task by Zalmi batters, with Shinwari being the sole exception. Given the 19th over, he once again impressed, ending Nasim's 18-ball 35-run innings.
In the end, Zalmi finished with 181-6 — a total that very few expected halfway through their innings when they had just 58 runs on the board. They scored an eye-watering 123 runs in the final 10 overs and 64 in the final 5.
Irfan Jr's three overs went for 46 runs. For Shinwari, however, the game was happening at a different pace. The miserly southpaw picked up three wickets in his four overs and gave away just 11 runs. Even more mind-boggling is the fact that he bowled two of his four overs in the final quarter of the Zalmi innings when Sammy and Nasim were scoring runs for fun.
The start to Karachi Kings' innings was not too different from Zalmi's. They lost Joe Denly in the third over and Colin Ingram in the 5th. At that point that had 27 runs on the board — all of which were scored by Babar Azam, on whose shoulders rested Karachi's hopes.
Fast forward five more overs and the Kings were 52-3, even worse off than what Zalmi were at this stage and in need of a herculean effort in the final quarter of the match.
For some reason, the ball was just not coming on to the bat of Karachi batters. Ravi Bopara departed in the 11th, with his place in the middle taken by Afridi.
With a dozen overs gone, the Kings were 64-4...well and truly out of the game unless of course Afridi could turn the clock back and return to his heyday best or at least experience an Indian summer.
The 13th Sameen Gul over certainly felt like the return of Afridi of the old. The last three balls all were dispatched for 6s.
There was still a long, long way to go but the Kings 85-4 after 13 at least had a glimmer of hope. But as it happens so often with Afridi, that hope evaporated in the 14th over. After hitting a six off of Liam Dawson, Afridi planted an easy catch into the hands of the long-on fielder — a sequence often seen in Boom Boom's international career.
Wickets kept on tumbling around him but Azam stood his ground, completing his fourth half-century of his last five innings. His 50-ball 66-run innings came to an end in the 17th over. Wahab Riaz picked up his wicket.
In the end, the Kings could muster 137 runs for the loss of eight wickets, falling 44 runs short of their target. Akmal was named the man of the match.
The defeat for Karachi dented their chances of play-offs qualification and keeps the race for final two places open. They now must defeat table-toppers Islamabad United — the form team of the tournament — in their final fixture to go through without needing the added push from the run-rate column, which theirs is still better than Multan's.
Zalmi, meanwhile, still occupy the second-last spot in the standings but now have 8 points to their name and face the comparatively easier Lahore in their final match.
Karachi Kings XI: Joe Denly, Babar Azam, Colin Ingram, Eoin Morgan (capt.), Ravi Bopara, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Shahid Afridi, Usama Mir, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Irfan Jr., Usman Khan Shinwari
Peshawar Zalmi XI: Mohammad Hafeez, Kamran Akmal (wk), Dwayne Smith, Rikki Wessels, Saad Nasim, Liam Dawson, Darren Sammy (capt.), Umaid Asif, Hasan Ali, Wahab Riaz, Sameen Gul