Rahmanullah Gurbaz brings holiday fireworks as Delhi Bulls clinch top-two spot
Thrashing of Team Abu Dhabi set up by Gurbaz's scintillating 69 off 29 balls
Delhi Bulls 135 for 5 (Gurbaz 69, Ruthreford 52) beat Team Abu Dhabi 86 for 8 (Rashid 3-15, Drakes 3-15) by 49 runs
It's tough to think of a more exciting and promising young batter in world cricket right now than Rahmanullah Gurbaz.
With the IPL auction a month or so away, Gurbaz has gone about executing his audition in style at the Abu Dhabi T10.
A night after hitting the fastest fifty of the tournament with a quite stunning 14-ball effort, the baby-faced Afghanistan international smashed 69 off just 29 deliveries to remarkably drag Delhi Bulls into the top two and into a straight qualifier for the final against Deccan Gladiators on Friday. A 49-run hammering of Team Abu Dhabi was more than enough to go ahead of their opponents on net run rate.
The top two will have the luxury of getting another chance, with the losing side playing the winner of the eliminator between Team Abu Dhabi and Bangla Tigers, in a triple-header on Friday at the Zayed Cricket Ground.
Over the course of two nights, Gurbaz has accumulated 126 runs in 45 balls. In a tournament with renowned hitters of a cricket ball from across the globe, it is the emergence of Gurbaz that has lit up the competition. He stands clear at the top of the runs and boundaries leaderboard with 310 runs and 50 boundaries
In so many ways, Gurbaz embodies the term "the exuberance of youth" beautifully, with his fearlessness and the genuine 360-degree game - something that doesn't come as a surprise, given that AB de Villiers is his idol. Mind you, here is a talent who hit a scintillating century on his ODI debut for Afghanistan at the very same ground in January. Eleven months on and there isn't a more thrilling prospect across the cricketing globe.
The 50th National Day of the UAE has signalled a long holiday weekend in Abu Dhabi, which has been filled with a frenzy of celebrations thus far. On Thursday night, in front of the biggest crowd of the tournament thus far, Gurbaz provided the best fireworks display yet with a classy knock that included five fours and six sixes.
Here is a man who has grown in confidence as the tournament has progressed. A week ago, as he blasted a devastating 70 in a 116-run partnership with Luke Wright, Gurbaz spoke about how his confidence increased when there was experience alongside him.
He didn't need experience by his side on this occasion. This was a man showcasing to the world what he was all about. That trust in his own ability. That decisiveness in his decision making. The execution of the shots themselves.
Put into bat by Liam Livingstone, Gurbaz carried on from where left off the night before, effortlessly cutting a wide delivery from Sheldon Cottrell first up for four. He took the West Indian for 14 in his second over, including a majestic six over deep midwicket and the very next over, he and Sherfane Rutherford, who scored a blistering 54 off 22 deliveries, combined to smash Jamie Overton for 22.
Livingstone brought himself on to try to break the partnership. Instead, Gurbaz gave the England allrounder a taste of his own medicine to audaciously send him for consecutive maximums. By now, he was putting on a show.
Ruthreford belted Naveen-ul-Haq for three sixes in an over, before Gurbaz reached a second half-century in as many nights, gloriously dispatching his countryman over extra-cover for six. It was a shot of the highest class and entertainment of the highest order. The youngster's celebration was something to behold.
Gurbaz let out an almighty roar, removed his helmet and raised his bat towards a Bulls dugout that was standing in ovation for their superstar. The cameras panned towards the likes of Eoin Morgan and Dwayne Bravo who were stood beaming with joy, clapping in appreciation of a sparkling talent that perhaps encapsulates the next wave of young cricketers, a generation who have grown up immersed in the short-format cricket that has revolutionised the art of batting itself.
Alongside Ruthreford, they put on a partnership of over a hundred in six overs and by the time Gurbaz was dismissed, Bulls not only had a total to defend, but also a chance to go above Team Abu Dhabi if they managed to win by 28 runs or more.
That they did in emphatic fashion, with three wickets from Dominic Drakes and a mesmerising hat-trick from Adil Rashid, which included the scalps of Livingstone, Colin Ingram and Overton. Livingstone top-edged one into the night sky to Gurbaz who held on and celebrated that wicket with the same intensity and energy that he had displayed with the bat. Ingram was undone by a legbreak, before Overton was clean bowled by a googly from Rashid that snuck past his inside edge.
The icing on the cake of Gurbaz's night out in Abu Dhabi was seeing his friend and team-mate, Fazalhaq Farooqi bowl a maiden as the Team Abu Dhabi innings petered out. At the end of the over, he sprinted towards Farooqi with a joyous smile and greeted him with a double fist bump, knowing that the job was almost complete.
Whether or not Delhi Bulls go on to become champions of the Abu Dhabi T10, one thing is for certain; in Rahmanullah Gurbaz, there is a champion player in the making.
Aadam Patel is a freelance sports reporter who has written for BBC Sport, the Daily Mail, ESPNcricinfo, the Cricketer and other publications @aadamp9