Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000
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Multan Sultans 163 for 2 (Rossouw 65*, Rizwan 53*) beat Lahore Qalandars 135 for 9 (Fakhar 63, Dahani 3-19, Willey 2-23) by 28 runs
Lahore Qalandars might have beaten them in the group stages, but Multan Sultans showed why they won the other nine, squeezing out a gritty 28-run win over the home side to book their place in their second successive final. An unbeaten 42-ball 65 from Rilee Rossouw on a pitch that proved especially tricky to bat on helped the Sultans post 163, which in hindsight was a better total than it appeared at the time. The bowlers picked up the mantle from thereon, a disciplined showing as a unit withstanding an onslaught from Fakhar Zaman that threatened to throw the Sultans at the mercy of Friday's eliminator. Once the in-form opener was trapped in front by David Willey for 63 off 45, the Qalandars middle and lower order crumbled, and the relentless defending champions closed the game out with comfort.
After the Qalandars won the toss and opted to field, Mohammad Rizwan carried his bat, though failed to find his rhythm all innings in a scratchy - albeit unbeaten - 51-ball 53. It might be the surface, but the Qalandars were especially parsimonious, with Hafeez allowing just 16 runs in his four overs, while Shaheen Afridi and Samit Patel kept things tight up top. The dangerous Shan Masood was trapped in front off Hafeez's first ball, and the surface, combined with a nervy abundance of caution from the defending champions saw them restrained for much of the innings.
The Sultans had been dealt a huge blow after Tim David was ruled out with a positive Covid test, and Aamer Azmat was promoted to No. 3 after the early dismissal. His intentions were clear straight away, taking a couple of boundaries off Shaheen Afridi's second over, taking control while Rizwan took his time to bed in. By the time he fell, looking to take on Samit Patel and finding himself out of his crease, he'd struck a crisp 22-ball 33, and the Sultans had a platform.
With Khushdil Shah and Johnson Charles waiting in the dugout, there was perhaps a case for Rizwan throwing caution to the wind, but the decisive moves were made by Rossouw down the other end. Even the South African didn't quite find his timing early on, managing 28 off his first 22, but pushed through the gears in the final six overs. A key 18th-over onslaught against Haris Rauf, where Rossouw smashed a four and six, brought up a 33-ball half-century, and that the Sultans plundered 83 off the last eight overs was almost solely down to the left-hander.
For the last two games on the trot, Qalandars had fallen short chasing what seemed like low totals, and they began extremely cautiously once more. Unlike those occasions, however, Fakhar didn't give his wicket away early, though on a pitch where bowlers were hard to get away, the rising asking rate remained a perennial concern. Asif Afridi cleaned Abdullah Shafique up and Kamran Ghulam felt chancing his luck on a risky single. Khushdil, who has been a revelation with the ball this season, then trapped Mohammad Hafeez for a three-ball duck the following over. By the halfway stage, the Qalandars had shuffled along to 59 for 3, with the asking rate already in double digits.
Fakhar's presence at the crease provided the most realistic source of hope to a near-capacity crowd at the Gaddafi Stadium, and in the 12th over against the wily old Imran Tahir, the left-hander made his move. Three successive sixes - the third a monstrous strike into the second tier - suddenly reminded the Sultans the game wasn't over, and from under a run-a-ball, Fakhar was all of a sudden bringing up a 37-ball 50.
But Sultans' varied slew of bowlers know what it takes to chip away, and chip away they did. Shahnawaz Dahani, who's purple patch last year has been replaced by occasional patches of form this time, struck Harry Brook in front of the stumps and removed the man who's scored one of this season's three PSL hundreds. But it was Willey who truly put the nail in the home side's coffin when he trapped Fakhar lbw. It was one of two key wickets in a three-over spell from the Englishman, and finally broke Qalandars' back.
What followed was a blur of Sultans' dominance as Shaheen Afridi's side collapsed in on themselves. They would lose six wickets for 26 runs as the lower order offered no resistance, with Dahani, who finished with three wickets, the pick of the bunch. Lahore may get another bite at the cherry, but the home side are now one game away from watching their dream of an elusive PSL title go up in smoke once again. The embers, this time, were lit by the irrepressible defending champions, who remain on fire, with every side clueless as to how to put it out.
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