KARACHI: At the 14th attempt, the unthinkable happened: the team that lost the toss and were asked to bat first managed to win a match in the 2021 Pakistan Super League.
Winless in their first four games of the season, Quetta Gladiators were unlikely candidates to break the infamous chasing streak, and it was an unlikely contender who fired them to a defendable total. Usman Khan, making his official T20 debut at the age of 25, hit 81 off 50 balls to lead them to 176 for 7, a total which could and should have been significantly higher but for a stumble in the middle overs.
With the ball, the wizardry of their two main spinners, Qais Ahmad and Mohammad Nawaz, was key, as Multan Sultans became the first side to fall short in a chase despite yet another half-century from Mohammad Rizwan – his third in five innings to date in this tournament.
USMAN KHAN’S DEBUT FIREWORKS:
All of the talk about Quetta Gladiators coming into this season revolved around their top-order batting, and specifically their two platinum picks at January’s draft. In Chris Gayle and Tom Banton, they had a ready-made opening partnership between the one of the GOATs in the shortest format and one of its brightest young talents.
Things have not played out as planned. Gayle played two innings at No. 3 before departing for Antigua, winning a recall to West Indies’ T20I set-up at the age of 41, while Banton was dropped after making nine runs in two innings and watched Wednesday night’s game from self-isolation after testing positive for Covid-19.
In their absence, the unknown Usman was plucked from obscurity and played one of the innings of the season to date. He was last seen playing in the D20 tournament in the UAE in December, having made a couple of first-class appearances for Karachi Whites in October 2017, but was thrown in at the deep end alongside the 18-year-old Saim Ayub and got the Gladiators off to a flying start.
Usman was strong all around the ground, but particularly square of the wicket, with a preference for the leg side. He was particularly punishing against Carlos Brathwaite, whom he hit for 27 in 11 balls including a four and two sixes at the end of the 13th, but his best shot was a clean strike over long-on against Imran Tahir.
SULTANS FIGHT BACK:
Tahir was making his first appearance of the season, coming into the side alongside Imran Khan and Shan Masood as Usman Qadir, Shahid Afridi and Chris Lynn were left out. It was an emotional night for him, as he dedicated his first wicket to his close friend Tahir Mughal, who passed away in January following a battle with cancer.
And Tahir’s second wicket, which saw him trap Usman lbw when reverse-sweeping on 81, sparked a mini-collapse. Faf du Plessis had struggled for timing, making a run-a-ball 17 and playing on off Sohail Khan the ball after Usman’s dismissal, and it took a pair of cameos from Azam Khan and Mohammad Nawaz to drag the Gladiators to 176 for 7 after their 20 overs.
Shahnawaz Dhani bowled some superb yorkers at the death, managing to extract movement from the old ball at high pace, but struggled for consistency and ended up conceding 44 from his four overs.
RIZWAN’S STRONG START:
Rizwan and James Vince started the chase well, racing to 53 for 0 inside the powerplay to stay level with the required rate as they took advantage of a loose start from the Gladiators’ seamers and feasted on the legspinner Zahid Mahmood. Sarfaraz Ahmed also burned both of his side’s reviews early on.
But Qais and Nawaz came on after the powerplay and immediately put the brakes on. Qais removed Vince in his first over, feathering an edge through to Sarfaraz, and pinned Shan Masood lbw trying to sweep in his second. The four overs immediately after the powerplay brought only 16 runs, leaving the required rate up at 10.8.
Rizwan led the rebuilding job, surviving an optimistic stumping shout from Sarfaraz on 49 but batting with the fluency that has defined his tournament, but Qais struck for a third time as Rilee Rossouw spooned a catch to fine leg. Sohaib Maqsood holed out to long-on, leaving Khushdil Shah as the only real support for Rizwan, and despite an expensive third over from Dale Steyn, the rate continued to look beyond them.
THE CURSE IS BROKEN:
Mohammad Hasnain made two breakthroughs bowling at high pace in his third over, removing both Shah and Brathwaite, leaving Rizwan as the last man standing. He holed out off Mahmood, who had Sohail caught at long-on a ball later, and should have had a hat-trick but for Ben Cutting’s drop at mid-off. Tahir whacked a six over the covers off Hasnain, but the Gladiators managed to close the game out regardless.
The Gladiators are still bottom of the pile on net run-rate, level on points with the Sultans. Both sides have identical records, having lost four games out of five, and are already in real danger of missing out on the play-offs.