Peshawar Zalmi skipper Babar Azam’s 64 off 39 and Salman Irshad’s 2-18 inspired the team to a narrow 12-run win to knock out Islamabad United in their Pakistan Super League (PSL) 8 eliminator at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium.
The victory has set up a tantalising second eliminator against hosts Lahore Qalandars on Friday, with the victor set to take on Multan Sultans in the final which has been rescheduled for Saturday.
Peshawar has consistently relied on their top order to give them blistering starts and Thursday was no different as Babar and opening partner Saim Ayub smashed 60 in only 4.4 overs.
The young duo of Haseebullah Khan (15 off 11) and Muhammad Haris (34 off 17) then carried on the momentum as Peshawar looked on course to score in excess of 200 as they reached 109-2 at the halfway point of their innings.
Conditions became more difficult for the batsmen from there on though as the ball didn’t come onto the bat in the same way once it got older, but Peshawar would have still been disappointed to finish on 183-8.
The target was always going to be a challenging one considering the conditions, but Darren Sammy may have wanted more from his players, especially since Peshawar were 137-3 in 13 overs when Babar was dismissed.
Muhammad Wasim was the pick of the bowlers, giving away only 1-29 in his four overs but Islamabad skipper Shadab Khan did his share of damage with 2-40, especially considering one of those two wickets was that of his opposite number Babar.
Islamabad enjoyed a similarly wonderful start as Alex Hales smashed 57 off 37 deliveries and was ably supported by Sohaib Maqsood, who scored a steady 60 off 48.
Islamabad looked to be in cruise control when they were on 128-1 after 14 overs. However, the scoring predictably became more laboured in the latter part of the innings as the ball got older and Peshawar applied the squeeze wonderfully.
Things went south quite drastically for Islamabad from there on in though as they went from losing four wickets and scored only 14 runs in the next 16 deliveries.
By the time Colin Munro was put out of his misery after scoring four off nine by Salman Irshad, the match was all but over. Irshad took 2-18 in his four overs, using the conditions to his advantage with deadly precision.
No team had won chasing a total at the Gaddafi this year, so Shadab’s decision to bat first after winning the toss came back to haunt him.
Shadab will lead Pakistan in Babar’s stead for the series against Afghanistan, but the Pakistan skipper comprehensively won the battle of wits against his understudy as he used his bowlers perfectly to knock out the tournament’s most prolific chasers so far in Islamabad United.
The author is a freelance journalist