Pollard and Cottrell blow Lahore Qalandars away
Sultans make PSL final for third straight season after bowling out the defending champions for 76
Multan Sultans 160 for 5 (Pollard 57, Rizwan 33, Haris 3-34) beat Lahore Qalandars 76 all out (Billings 19, Rauf 15, Cottrell 3-20) by 84 runs
Earlier this week, Lahore Qalandars coach Aqib Javed told ESPNcricinfo about how other teams in the PSL prioritised power hitters, while Qalandars wanted to go for the best bowlers. Here, Multan Sultans demonstrated to them the value of power hitters lower down the order, as Kieron Pollard and Tim David dug deep against an imperious Qalandars bowling showing to post 160. Sultans then went about taking apart the defending champions' batting line-up in astonishing fashion, with Sheldon Cottrell blowing away the top order as Qalandars folded for 76, the third-lowest total in PSL history. It sealed Sultans' place in the PSL final for the third successive season - the first team to do that - while Qalandars drop down into Friday's eliminator to keep their title defence intact.
Chasing a total down against Qalandars' bowling line-up has become the most daunting challenge in the PSL, and Sultans were sensible enough to be flexible. They won the toss and batted first for the first time this season, and just the fifth time in their history. But they tend to pick these moments well; they won three of the previous four.
That victory seemed anything but assured for much of the first innings, with Qalandars at their imperious best with the ball, stifling Sultans in the first 15 overs. The average first innings score this season here was 193, but it became obvious fairly soon the Sultans wouldn't get anywhere near that. They managed just 46 in the powerplay, and while Qalandars hadn't picked up any wickets, it didn't seem as if they needed to.
Haris Rauf, at his fearsome fastest, struck the first blow, though the ball he cleaned Usman Khan up with was a slower one. Zaman Khan got rid of a scratchy Rilee Rossouw cheaply, a huge wicket, particularly given Rossouw's imperious record against Qalandars. Rashid Khan prised Mohammad Rizwan out with a wrong'un to reduce the Sultans to 90 for three, and Qalandars only tightened their grip on the game.
It was a sensational lower order counterattack from Pollard that dug his side out of a hole, though it wasn't without its chances. Sam Billings dropped a skier fairly early on in the onslaught, with Shaheen Afridi and Hussain Talat missing chances to get rid of him. In the meantime, he was grinding through the gears, pushing up Sultans total to a defensible level, never more so than when he powered three sixes off Shaheen in the penultimate over; the 20 the Qalandars captain conceded made it his most costly PSL over. It also brought up a 33-ball 50 for Pollard, winning him the Player-of-the-Match award.
Haris hit back with a scintillating final six balls, hitting speeds in excess of 150 regularly and cleaning up both Pollard and Khushdil Shah. It saw just six runs scored and clawed a bit of momentum Qalandars' way, turning the task over to the batters.
But Cottrell, newly arrived at the PSL, wrenched the game out of Qalandars' hands before they'd even had the opportunity to get the chase off the ground. A double-strike in his second over, making prodigious use of inswing to the right-handers, put paid to both Mirza Baig and Abdullah Shafique, while Anwar Ali from the other end seamed one beautifully to knock back the top of Fakhar Zaman's off stump. Cottrell wasn't done with the ambush yet, returning to dispatch Shaheen with a wild swing off the second ball he faced finding Usman Khan at cover.
There was more trauma about to be inflicted on a shell-shocked Qalandars. Pollard, their tormentor in chief with the bat, saw two wickets fall in his first over, sloppy running catching Talat out before a sensational running catch from Abbas Afridi brought the curtains down on Sikandar Raza.
Qalandars' thoughts were already turning to Friday's eliminator. Billings and Rashid fell in quick succession, before a few lusty blows from David Wiese and Rauf gave a packed, partisan home crowd something to cheer for. It was to be ephemeral, however, with Abbas Afridi delivering the knockout blow as Haris feathered one through to the keeper.
Sultans were thrashed in last year's PSL final by this very opposition. But this was a step towards ensuring they might not even need to meet them at that stage one more time.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000