Rajshahi Royals 165 for 8 (Russell 54*, Sukkur 45) beat Chattogram Challengers 164 for 9 (Gayle 60, Nawaz 2-13) by two wickets
Andre Russell blew away Chattogram Challengers at the final hurdle, dragging Rajshahi Royals to the BPL final after a thrilling two-wicket win in the second qualifier. The match ended when Russell slammed Asela Gunaratne's no-ball for a six over midwicket, the seventh of his 21-ball unbeaten half-century.
Russell, who said ahead of the tournament that he preferred the BPL to the Big Bash League, delivered right when it mattered, winning it with four balls and only two wickets to spare. That the margin was so close indicated how the match wasn't really shaping up to go Rajshahi's way until the West Indian's intervention.
Malik leaves too much for Russell
With his side in need of quick runs, Shoaib Malik's 14 off 22 balls was a strange little innings. He was first playing a supportive role to Irfan Sukkur, who was striking the ball fairly well during his stay, but even when he made 45 off 42 balls with the six fours, Malik had to take control of the situation. Instead, he continued to mistime the ball, and ended up caught top-edging a sweep off Ziaur Rahman, leaving Russell to make the bulk of the remaining 85 runs to win, off just 40 balls.
But no chase is too much for Russell
The match turned in the 17th over when Rayad Emrit, despite his two wickets in the over, went for 20 runs. Rubel Hossain pinned down Russell in the following over with four dot balls, but Russell still struck a six off the last ball.
Then came the big over when young Mehedi Hasan Rana, so impressive in the league phase and leading into this over, went for 23 runs. Russell slammed two sixes and a four, before tail-ender Abu Jayed edged one more four to leave eight off the last over. Crucially, Russell would be on strike.
Russell seals the deal
Gunaratne bowled wide of the crease from around the wicket to cramp Russell, but after two decent attempts, he bowled a wide ball, and then mistakenly got one in his slot. Russell slammed it out of the ground, and the umpire signaled a no-ball, as the Rajshahi players belatedly ran to the pitch to greet their captain for the magnanimous effort.
Mehedi twists, turns and hits
But the match wasn't going that badly for Mehedi, or Chattogram. After Afif Hossain holed out in the deep square-leg boundary, Liton Das became the marked man. But he didn't last long either, as Mehedi ran him out with an athletic swoop.
After Liton inside edged one on to his pads, he called for the run with the ball not too far from the pitch itself. Rana got quickly to the ball, turned and threw down the stumps at the non-striker's end with Liton well short of the crease. It is likely that Liton didn't expect Rana to do the tougher job of affecting the direct hit on the turn, but it was an excellent effort from the young pace bowler.
Gayle sets the pace
A single fifty in his last 17 innings may have worried T20 promoters around the world but Chris Gayle put some of it to rest with a blazing half-century. He struck five sixes and six fours in his 24-ball 60, giving Chattogram the perfect start. There was the usual Gayle flicks and hoicks, which brought the half-filled stadium alive, as well as the deft touches, and at times a quick single. All part of the Gayle package.
Chattogram dip mid innings
With Gayle at the crease, Chattogram flew into the nineties in the 10th over, but the moment Afif snuck one through his slog, Chattogram had to recalibrate their approach. That, however, couldn't happen with Mohammad Nawaz removing Mahmudullah and Nurul Hasan in the following over, before Liton took a brilliant catch at short midwicket to get rid of Chadwick Walton.
But this was a long time ago in the game. Russell's power made sure all these efforts from Chattogram fell well short when it really mattered.