Karachi Kings 127 for 4 (Gayle 44, Shadab 3-13) beat Islamabad United 123 for 7 (Smith 49) by six wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
In a nutshell
Karachi Kings dominated the final league game from the start to finish, completing a six-wicket win over Islamabad United that ensured they qualified for the playoffs. Rain had delayed the start by 90 minutes and considering the variables that rain brings - how the pitch will play with some moisture on it and the unpredictability of the Duckworth-Lewis Method - the toss became crucial. Karachi won it, chose to bowl and never looked back.
The only phase which Karachi didn't control was when the Islamabad openers made a steady start. Dwayne Smith and Ben Duckett added 37, but it took the majority of the Powerplay - 27 balls. Par scores in the tournament have been fluctuating as much as the games, but with not much spin on offer, Islamabad needed more than the 123 they mustered. None of Karachi's bowlers were exceptional, but neither were they deplorable. Pace variations were used effectively, including a back-of-the-hand googly from seamer Sohail Khan that dismissed Shane Watson.
Chris Gayle, dropped from the previous match, lit up Dubai in the chase. He didn't take long to get going, striking five sixes in eight balls en route to his 17-ball 44. Not only did that blitz get him back in hitting form, it also put Karachi well ahead in the chase. It was a canter thereon. Even though the match went down to the penultimate ball, it wasn't as close as the scoreline suggested.
Where the match was won
A curtailed contest means an increased allocation of resources, but Islamabad were unable to use the depth in their batting line-up in the 15-over game - partly due to their own indecision of a par score but also because of the Karachi bowlers' execution. Between overs 6 and 10, Islamabad scored just 27 runs and lost two wickets. Legspinner Usama Mir and left-arm spinner Imad Wasim bowled two overs each in that period and allowed just one boundary, using wily changes in length and pace.
The men that won it
Karachi's playing XI. The whole team contributed at some stage. Five bowlers bowled their quota of three overs, and none conceded more than 30. The fielding remained tidy through the innings. With the bat, Gayle played the most significant hand, but the target may just have been insurmountable without the rest of the cameos.
Moment of the match
Kieron Pollard went 6, 6 off the final two balls to keep Karachi alive in the previous game. He almost matched those pyrotechnics in the field in the final league match. He took four catches, the last of which was possibly the moment of Karachi's campaign. Smith, batting on 49, heaved an Usman Khan delivery towards wide long-on, where Pollard sprinted to his right. Using every bit of his athleticism, he stuck out his long right hand to pluck another grab for the Pollard scrapbook of implausible catches.
Where they finished
Karachi was left with 111 to qualify for the playoffs and 124 to win. They ended up achieving both to finish third on the points table. Islamabad had already qualified for the playoffs, and finished fourth, but a win would have put them in first and given them two cracks at reaching the final by virtue of playing in the first qualifying final on February 28. Instead, Karachi and Islamabad will have a rematch in an elimination playoff on March 1. The result also meant that Lahore Qalandars were eliminated from the tournament.
Nikhil Kalro is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo