DUBAI: Karachi Kings were torn apart by a tornado called Luke Ronchi, which encapsulated their abject surrender to Islamabad United in the qualifier fixture of the HBL Pakistan Super League here on Sunday night.

Ronchi, the retired international who represented both Australia and New Zealand, rode his luck not once but thrice in an unbelievable mode of total aggression to close out the UAE leg in a blaze of exhilarating entertainment at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium as Islamabad stormed to their second final in a canter by a handsome eight-wicket margin and with an incredible 45 deliveries to spare — largest in terms of balls in the PSL history.

Also read: Karachi Kings — the PSL franchise hated by many of its own

And given the magnitude of this match with a final spot in Karachi at stake, the turnout yet again highlighted the lack of full house in this edition. Once Karachi had been restricted to 154-4 — a score which was built around Joe Denly and Colin Ingram — after Eoin Morgan decided to bat first in his last outing this edition.

“I thought we batted okay but didn’t bat at our best and couldn’t get a competitive total on the board to stay in the game,” Morgan said at the post-match media conference.

“It wasn’t definitely a match-winning score with something to bowl at. I don’t think we started well with the ball and allowed Luke Ronchi to play in his aggressive manner and let him take the game from us and once he’s in that mood, he was hard to stop. We didn’t take the chances coming our way particularly when a side comes as hard as Islamabad did tonight.”

Mohammad Sami, one of the usual suspects returning in the playing XI along with stand-in skipper J.P. Duminy and man-of-the-match Ronchi after being ‘rested’ in Friday night’s final league game in Sharjah, put Karachi under pressure upfront with the wickets of Khurram Manzoor and Babar Azam in three balls.

Denly (51 off 46 deliveries, four boundaries and one six) and Ingram, who finished undefeated on a 39-ball 68 (six sixes and one four) raised hopes in the Karachi camp somewhat by putting together a much-needed partnership of 82 in 57 balls.

But their collective teamwork remained horribly inadequate when Ronchi launched himself with the white Kookaburra ball flying in all directions of this spacious stadium to warm up a chilly night.

The wicket-keeper/batsman sailed brought up the quickest PSL half-century in just 19 deliveries and went on to a hurricane 94 from 39 balls with 78 runs coming in the shape of 12 fours and five sixes, while overtaking Kamran Akmal (347) at the top of tournament’s batting chart by extending his tally to 383 with his fourth half-century in debut PSL season.

Sahibzada Farhan, replacing the injured Islamabad skipper Misbah-ul-Haq in the line-up, played his role to perfection in the swashbuckling opening stand of 91 before slicing a catch to Shahid Afridi at cover after striking three sixes in an 18-ball 29.

Ronchi admitted afterwards the shoddy catching didn’t matter much to him. “It was one of those occasions when I felt comfortable with my job and was in the zone to play big shots. Luck was on my side and when you play the way I do you need luck to back your instincts.”

Duminy, meanwhile, played glowing tribute to his match-winners, Sami and Ronchi.

“It was one of those clinical performances, I guess. Ronchi’s knock was among top three innings I have ever seen. Sami was amazing and the guy is still fit enough to play international cricket.”

Afridi cut a forlorn figure and was clearly hampered by a knee injury as highlighted by former Pakistan skipper’s gingerly movement while bowling his three overs. While Karachi need his inspiration in Wednesday’s second eliminator to keep alive their aspirations of playing at the National Stadium, Islamabad have secured a week’s break until the title-decider.

Scoreboard

KARACHI KINGS: Khurram Manzoor c and b Sami 6 J.L. Deny hit wkt b Fahim 51 Babar Azam c Duminy b Sami 0 E.J.G. Morgan c Duminy b Amad 21 C.A. Ingram not out 68 Shahid Afridi not out 4 EXTRAS (LB-2, W-2) 4 TOTAL (for four wkts, 20 overs) 154 FALL OF WKTS: 1-17, 2-17, 3-46, 4-128. DID NOT BAT: Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Irfan Jr, Mohammad Amir, T.S. Mills, Usman Khan Shinwari. BOWLING: Patel 4-0-23-0; Mohammad Sami 4-0-20-2 (2w); Fahim Ashraf 4-0-53-1; Shadab Khan 4-0-24-0; Amad Butt 2-0-16-1; Hussain Talat 2-0-16-0. ISLAMABAD UNITED: L. Ronchi not out 94 Sahibzada Farhan c Afridi b Mills 29 A.D. Hales c Mills b Usman 14 S.R. Patel not out 14 EXTRAS (LB-1, W-3) 4 TOTAL (for two wkts, 12.3 overs) 155 FALL OF WKTS: 1-91, 2-130. DID NOT BAT: J.P. Duminy, Hussain Talat, Asif Ali, Shadab Khan, Fahim Ashraf, Amad Butt, Mohammad Sami.
BOWLING: Mohammad Amir 3-0-30-0; Usman Khan Shinwari 3.3-0-44-1; Mills 2-0-32-1 (2w); Shahid Afridi 3-0-30-0 (1w); Mohammad Irfan Jr 1-0-18-0. RESULT: Islamabad United won by eight wickets. UMPIRES: Aleem Dar (Pakistan) and Rashid Riaz (Pakistan). TV UMPIRE: Shozab Raza (Pakistan). MATCH REFEREE: Mohammad Anees (Pakistan). MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Luke Ronchi.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2018