The First Eliminator – Peshawer Zalmi vs Quetta Gladiators
The set-up for the start of the Pakistan leg of HBL- PSL 3 could not have been any better. And boy wasn’t it worth the wait! After a nerve-wrecking first round, the old foes were staring each other down once again! Whenever Peshawar Zalmi and Quetta Gladiators have met in the past, the games have been balanced on a knife’s edge.
Gladiators had won the previous two PSL games – one in 2016 and one in 2017, by a single run. What were the odds that the third match between these two teams would be decided by the same margin again? What if the same team won again? Given this background, there was an extra dimension to this match which was over and above the fact that PSL was shifting to Pakistan.
On paper, Zalmi had the edge. Their foreign players had all agreed to come to Pakistan, whereas Gladiators seemed weakened by the absence of their two-heavy weight foreign players, Pietersen and Watson. It was the absence of their foreign players that had significantly handicapped them in the final of the PSL 2, when they were outclassed by a strong Zalmi side. But they had a good bowling unit – in-form Nawaz and Rahat Ali. With Sarfraz and Asad Shafiq batting, and Anwar Ali able to hit powerful sixes lower in the order, they had the required strength to give Zalmi a good fight. Best of all, PSL 3 had the legendary Sir Vivian Alexander Richards mentoring them. The sight of a pumped-up Viv Richards is enough to galvanise any team. Sir Viv had stated from the beginning of the tournament, that he was not afraid of visiting Pakistan, and that he would carry on with his duties in the Pakistan-held games.
It was with this background that the first ‘eliminator’ match of PSL 3 went underway. Sarfraz Ahmed won the toss for Quetta Gladiators and opted to field first. The stadium was full but it wasn’t a jam-packed house. Though the crowds did seem to fill up towards the end of the game, (you’ll soon find out why)! I think that PCB should lower ticket prices to make them more affordable to the masses. They would make a small financial gain by selling at higher prices, but the goodwill gained by a full house would be priceless. It is probably too late to adjust the prices for the remaining two games (the final sold out within hours of the tickets going online). But for PSL 4, this point should be well kept in mind.
Darren Sammy plays a pivotal role in the plans of team Zalmi. He, by showing his very public commitment to Peshawar, has endeared himself to all Pakistanis in general and to Peshawaris in particular. His social media messages in Pushto have awarded him ‘heartthrob status’ throughout the Pushto-speaking public. He is however, more than just a sharp social media personality. He is a gifted leader and an all-rounder. He has managed to fill the void left by the darling of Zalmi fans – Shahid Khan Afridi. The image of a badly limping Sammy, smashing sixes on one leg in the earlier games against the Gladiators, showed how vital he was as a player, to Zalmi’s chances in this tournament. It was largely because of that performance that Sammy has carried on playing, despite clearly suffering from his knee injury.
In this game too, Sammy was limping pretty badly from the start. In no other high-level match, international or first class, a player in his condition, could have made it to the playing eleven. No matter how vital that player might be. Physical fitness is an absolute basic requirement, and should never be compromised – for sake of the team and for the sake of the player himself.
A short but heavy shower at the start of the game resulted in a brief hold-up. Thankfully, the interruption was not long. When play resumed, the moisture in the air and in the wicket resulted in the ball seaming and swinging. Rahat Ali, a talented seamer, made full use of the conditions and completed his four overs with four wickets for only sixteen runs.
The runs scored by Zalmi, 157 – looked subpar. At the end of the innings, Quetta Gladiators seemed to be better placed to win this eliminator. Zalmi however, had the bowlers who could take wickets and restrict the Gladiators. The live wire Hasan Ali showed exactly why he is one of the top strike bowlers in the world today when he dismissed Asad Shafiq on the very first ball of the Quetta innings. Hasan was ably supported by the pacy Wahab Riaz and the promising Sameen Gul.
After losing two wickets, Nawaz and Sarfraz began the rebuild, and gradually carried Quetta to a score of 80 for the loss of two wickets. The required run rate at this point was around 8 an over, which had remained at this level throughout the innings.
At this point, poor Nawaz, suicidally top-edged a catch to third man. Sarfraz himself mis-cued the next pull-shot and offered an easy catch. From 80 for 2, the Gladiators slumped to 80-4. The bowler responsible for the two wickets was the young Sameen Gul – a medium-pacer who bowls at a nippy pace, and is good with his line and length, Sameen had stuck to the plan chalked out for him by his skipper and had been duly rewarded by the two prized wickets. The manner in which Sammy congratulated Sameen after he dismissed the batting duo of Nawaz and Sarfraz would have done wonders to raise the confidence of the youngster. Sammy was pumping air, hugging Sameen and patting his back like a true leader. Something which I hope Sarfraz can learn from.
After those 2 quick wickets, the Gladiators’ scoring rate gradually slipped lower and lower, and the required run rate spiralled up. Till the point when they needed 25 to win, from the last over. And THEN, we witnessed why T20 has become the most-loved version of cricket.
Anwar Ali, who is an all-rounder, was on strike. Sammy gave the ball to left-arm spinner, Dawson, for this over. Anwar Ali smashed him for a four and three sixes in the first five balls, leaving Quetta with a target of three off the last ball. Dawson bowled a full toss. This was probably the worst ball of the over. But Anwar Ali could only hit the ball down the throat of Umaid fielding at long on. Umaid however, dropped the catch but then…wait for it… had the nerve to throw the ball back to the bowler! The batting pair of Anwar Ali and Mir Hamza had been ball-watching rather than trying to run like mad, which meant that Dawson was able to run Mir Hamza out!
It was a breath-taking last over. If someone had to script a photo-finish, they could not have done it better. In the end, Zalmi kept their nerve, allowing them to inch ahead of their arch rivals. The fact that they managed to reverse the result from the earlier mentioned two games by the same margin of one run will definitely add pages to the history of rivalry between these two teams. PSL 3, let’s see what more you have to offer, this game has certainly raised the bar!