QUETTA: Six sixes in an over, a 45-year-old Shahid Afridi batting like a teenager and match stoppage before a thrilling finish; all was at offer at the Bugti Stadium as cricket returned to the venue for the first time in 27 years in form of a HBL Pakistan Super League exhibition match between Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi here on Sunday.
The stadium’s capacity of 20,000 spectators wasn’t enough given the demand for the much-awaited fixture as the fans who made it on time had to ensure they reached the venue three hours before the start of the match.
And what they watched was an exciting encounter involving some of the top Pakistan players including current and ex national team skippers Babar Azam and Sarfraz Ahmed — the duo leading Zalmi and Gladiators respectively.
The performance that truly lifted the atmosphere at the venue was that of Iftikhar Ahmed, with the hard-hitting batter bludgeoning veteran Pakistan pacer Wahab Riaz for six sixes in the final over of the first innings to take Gladiators to a total of 184 after they were put into bat by Zalmi.
The right-hander played some outrageous shots to match the feat achieved by the likes of South African Herschelle Gibbs and India’s Yuvraj Singh, scooping a full toss behind his legs, pulling over the leg-side and smashing through the off-side to finish 94 not out off just 50 balls.
In response, Zalmi openers Mohammad Haris and Babar gave the team a flying start as they posted 60 in just five overs before the latter departed.
That allowed the arrival of Afridi, who hit a boundary on his very first ball before seeing Haris continue to plunder the Quetta bowlers. The veteran all-rounder lost his wicket after adding a quickfire 25 to the score.
Zalmi’s run-rate stayed healthy but they kept losing wickets at regular intervals and were left with eight runs to win in the last over, bowled by Pakistan pace sensation Naseem Shah.
The right-armer bowled accurately to concede only half of the required runs to give the hosts a three-run victory in front of a partisan crowd.
Those who arrived after the start of the match were not allowed to cross the entry gates despite claiming to possess valid tickets. Few of such disappointed fans responded violently, pelting stones and burning tyres.
A few stones landed inside the ground where the match was ongoing and it had to be halted for half an hour with the players sent back into the dressing rooms.
However, no mere discrepancies took place after the match was restarted.
Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2023
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