LAHORE: Islamabad United’s big-name players returned for the big game and delivered, giving them the cutting edge they needed to eliminate Peshawar Zalmi and keep their title hopes alive.
Returning to the squad and back to the biosecure bubble, which he’d left due to fatigue, explosive opener Alex Hales gave them the initial impetus in their chase. How they’d missed him.
Inspirational captain Shadab Khan returned from injury, giving them the leadership they needed in the eliminator. That certainly made a difference.
Pacer Hasan Ali came back after sitting out their last few games and picked three wickets. That helped give their bowling some steel.
Alongside Azam Khan, Faheem Ashraf and Liam Dawson — who hit the winning runs, they carried United to a five-wicket, last-over victory against Zalmi, who had sparkling performances from their top players but captain Wahab Riaz couldn’t lead from the front.
Zalmi would also rue the fact that they gave Hales two reprieves early in his innings as their HBL Pakistan Super League came to an end.
It will instead be United who will take on Lahore Qalandars on Friday night to decide which one of them contests Sunday’s final against holders Multan Sultans.
Thursday’s tense victory, though, would surely give the two-time champions a spring in their step having only limped into the playoffs. They held their nerves in game which had so many plot-twists, so many potential turning points, to ultimately grab the victory at a packed Gaddafi Stadium.
The final twist of an enthralling game came in the final over with United needing 10 to win.
Zalmi seemed to have run out of bowling options, and ideas, and ultimately decided to give debutant Benny Howell a crack at winning the game. The French-born T20 specialist almost became an unlikely hero when he trapped Azam lbw but Dawson finished the game off on the next two deliveries burying Howell for a six down deep midwicket and a nerveless four over the short fine leg fielder.
As the ball raced away to the fence, Zalmi must’ve been wondering how they lost a game that had seemed to be in the bag, especially when Salman Irshad had dismissed Hales and Asif Ali in quick succession to leave United reeling, requiring 51 to win off the last five overs.
That moment had arrived for Zalmi after Hales (62) had put United in the driving seat, fully capitalising on a missed stumping chance when he’d not even got off the mark and a dropped catch when on 10.
Both of those opportunities were created by Zalmi’s mystery spinner Ali Majid.
Chasing 170, United lost opener Will Jacks (11) with the score at 34 when he was bowled round his legs by Khalid Usman but Shadab (22) and Hales took them to 77 in the first 10 overs, after which Salman struck to remove Shadab.
Hales, who hit six fours and three sixes, and Azam (28) then added a quick 44 runs before Salman got Zalmi back into the game with a stunning yorker that went past the Englishman’s defence and onto the stumps.
At the start of his next over, a slower yorker rattled Asif’s stumps. Now Salman needed his bowling partners to respond and in particular, his captain Wahab.
And while he was firing yorkers at will, Wahab was having problems in landing even one.
The incoming Faheem Ashraf (19 not out) smashed him for a four and a six in the next over to put pressure back on Zalmi. Azam piled it on with a huge six off Salman in the next over to bring down the equation to 22 runs needed off the last two.
“The plan was not to lose a wicket and take the match till the end,” Faheem said afterwards.
It was there when Zalmi needed Wahab to turn up. He didn’t, giving away three wides and being hit for a six by Azam to leave United firmly on top.
Howell inspired some hope but Dawson ruthlessly snatched it away from Zalmi, who rode on half-centuries by veterans Kamran Akmal (58) and Shoaib Malik (55) to post 169-5 after they had elected to bat.
“We weren’t able to bowl according to our plans,” rued Wahab. “The target was one we could’ve defended.”
Zalmi knew they needed to put a score on the board and attacked from the off. Kamran swept Liam Dawson for a six over fine leg on the third ball of their innings and Mohammad Haris (12) ended the first over with a four.
Kamran got a boundary each in the second and third over before he lost his opening partner in the fourth.
Haris had just pulled Faheem for a four but the United pacer drew extra bounce on the next delivery that got a thick outside edge and sailed to Asif at extra cover.
Faheem could’ve got another wicket in the same over but new batter Yasir Khan’s outside edge was floored by the third man fielder.
The final over of the powerplay saw Kamran and Yasir (eight) crack boundaries off Waqas Maqsood before Kamran hit Zahid Mahmood for back-to-back fours in the next.
Zalmi were building momentum but Hasan cut that short, forcing a top edge off Yasir that was collected by Dawson at deep square leg.
With Malik just arriving, Zalmi could only get eight runs off the next two overs to reach 67-2 at the halfway point of their innings.
But Kamran then took on Zahid to hit him for a flat six over the extra cover fence on the first ball of the 11th over before Malik got his first boundary in the same over.
Kamran raised his fifty with a four off Shadab in the next over and then hit Waqas for another boundary in the following over but he went trying to accelerate when he got a top edge off Shadab which was collected beautifully by Waqas.
With Kamran gone, it was Malik who took charge to give Zalmi the lift-off they needed.
Shadab had given away just 14 runs in his first three overs but was hit for 21 runs by Malik and Hussain Talat (28) as he returned to bowl the 16th over.
Malik smashed him over long-off on the first delivery and followed with a four off the next; hiting inside out over extra cover.
Hussain, who’d hit Hasan for a boundary in the previous over, got two more boundaries in that over.
Zalmi were in no mood to let the momentum slip and Malik hit Waqas for a six over deep midwicket and a four in the next over.
The following over saw Hussain get two boundaries off Hasan with Zalmi motoring on. But Hasan hit back when he ended Hussain’s 15-ball cameo as the Zalmi batter looked to chip him over fine leg but only succeeded in finding Athar Mahmood at short fine leg.
It broke Zalmi’s momentum as they could only get 15 off the last two overs with Malik departing off the penultimate delivery to give Hasan his third wicket.
Zami then didn’t make most of the early opportunities they were presented with. And in a game like this, it proved costly.
Batters & mode of dismissals R B 4s 6s SR
Kamran Akmal c Waqas b Shadab 58 39 7 2 148.71
Mohammad Haris c Asif b Faheem 12 8 2 0 150.00
Yasir Khan c Dawson b Hasan 8 12 1 0 66.66
Shoaib Malik c Hales b Hasan 55 43 4 2 127.90
Hussain Talat c Athar b Hasan 28 15 5 0 186.66
Haider Ali not out 1 2 0 0 50.00
Benny Howell not out 2 1 0 0 200.00
EXTRAS (B-1, LB-3, W-1) 5
TOTAL (for five wickets, 20 overs) 169
FALL OF WICKETS: 1-30 (Haris), 2-58 (Yasir), 3-98 (Kamran), 4-154 (Hussain), 5-167 (Malik).
DID NOT BAT: Wahab Riaz, Khalid Usman, Salman Irshad, Ali Majid.
BOWLING: Dawson 1-0-13-0, Faheem 3-0-15-1, Athar 2-0-9-0, Waqas 3-0-34-0, Zahid 3-0-29-0, Hasan 4-0-30-3, 4-035-1 (1w).
Batters & mode of dismissals R B 4s 6s SR
Will Jacks b Khalid 11 8 0 1 137.50
Alex Hales b Salman 62 49 6 3 126.53
Shadab Khan c Wahab b Salman 22 17 1 1 129.41
Azam Khan lbw b Howell 28 22 1 2 127.27
Asif Ali b Salman 7 6 0 1 116.66
Faheem Ashraf not out 19 13 2 1 146.15
Liam Dawson not out 10 2 1 1 500.00
EXTRAS (LB-3, W-8) 11
TOTAL (for five wickets, 19.3 overs) 170
FALL OF WICKETS: 1-34 (Jacks), 2-77 (Shadab), 3-111 (Hales), 4-119 (Asif), 5-160 (Azam).
DID NOT BAT: Hasan Ali, Athar Mahmood, Zahid Mahmood, Waqas Maqsood.
BOWLING: Majid 4-0-33-0 (1w), Khalid 4-0-17-1, Wahab 4-0-52-0 (4w), Howell 3.3-0-34-1, Salman 4-0-31-3 (3w).
RESULT: Islamabad United won by five wickets.
UMPIRES: .Aleem Dar (Pakistan) and Michael Gough (England).
TV UMPIRE: Richard Illingworth (England).
MATCH REFEREE: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka).
Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2022