Aamer Jamal leads stunning Peshawar Zalmi fightback to knock Islamabad United out
Babar Azam was the star with the bat, hitting 64 off 39 to give Zalmi 183 to work with
Peshawar Zalmi 183 for 8 (Babar 64, Haris 34, Shadab 2-40) beat Islamabad United 171 for 6 (Maqsood 60, Hales 57, Irshad 2-18) by 12 runs
Peshawar Zalmi were the side with the weakest death bowling, Islamabad United the team with the most fearsome power hitting. United were the imperious chasers, while just last week, Zalmi failed to defend 240 against already-eliminated Quetta Gladiators. The data, as Shadab Khan almost didactically likes to point out United operate by, all pointed to a United win, especially when fifties from Alex Hales and Sohaib Maqsood put their side 56 runs away with six overs and nine wickets to go. But, in defence of 183, Zalmi's bowlers produced a monumental comeback, a masterclass of yorker bowling from Salman Irshad and Aamer Jamal battering down United's defences. As the yellow storm surged, United were left high and dry, in the end falling comfortably short of the target by 13 runs.
United had opted to chase, flying in the face of the partiality Gaddafi Stadium has shown this season to the side batting first; all six matches until tonight had been won by the defenders. But Shadab's decision looked to be paying dividends when Hales and Maqsood struck up a magnificent second wicket partnership, accumulating 115 runs in 77 balls. Maqsood's targeting of Azmatullah Omarzai was the catalyst after he smashed two fours and a six in the fourth over, and Alex Hales tore Wahab Riaz apart in the over that followed, plundering 18 of it. By the end of the powerplay, they had put together 67, and were on track.
Zalmi continued to appear toothless as the field spread out, and the game looked set to be one of those clinics United put on every now and then. The stand was chanceless, and even Mujeeb ur Rehman found himself copping punishment by his final over as Babar Azam looked to be running out of cards to play.
In fact, he, and Zalmi, had been holding out their best for last. Jamal bowled a toe-crushing yorker to burst through Maqsood's defences. Yorker bowling suddenly became contagious, with Salman Irshad repeating the feat to see off Azam Khan cheaply, before Jamal saved his best for last, a peach that Hales had no answer to.
While the toes were being threatened, Islamabad also lost their heads. A run borne of muddled thinking brought about Faheem's run-out at the non-striker's end and, all of a sudden, the runscoring trickled to a halt. It didn't help that Colin Munro chose this moment to have his worst PSL game in ages, unable to find timing on anything before he fell for a limp nine-ball four.
United were done by now, needing 24 off the final over. Against such quality, the very notion they might get close was fanciful, with Jamal duly closing out with United 13 runs away.
The wheels for the Zalmi win, as Shadab pointed out post-match, had been set in motion in the first ten overs of the game, when Babar and Saim Ayub took the attack to United's bowlers. The first nine balls saw six boundaries scored as Babar and Saim split them, and the 50 was brought up inside four overs. Shadab lamented the lack of intensity from his side, but with Ayub in sizzling form and Babar toying with the field, it was difficult to see what United could do. When Muhammad Waseem removed Saim, Haseebullah duly took his place, as Babar brought up a 28-ball 50 at the other end.
Crucially, he didn't slow down after the first six overs, and with Mohammad Haris at the other end, there was no respite for United. By 13 overs, Zalmi had soared to 137 before United's bowlers finally turned things their way. Shadab was expensive, but changed momentum by trapping Babar in front, before Haris' departure dragged Zalmi back. The final five overs saw just three boundaries scored as United established control, and a Zalmi side who had been on track for over 200 limped to 183.
It didn't look like it might be enough, and all the data suggested it wouldn't be once Hales and Maqsood sunk their teeth into the chase. But Jamal, and Zalmi found something special in the moments that mattered, conjuring up a stirring finish to rip up all scripts and spreadsheets.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000