T20 run fests are great fun, but nothing quite beats a nail-biter, specially when a team has something at stake. This was the format at its raw, cruel best, where one swing of the blade meant wildly fluctuating fortunes for Pakistan cricket's two biggest powerhouses. Two swings of the blade, actually. Karachi Kings' Kieron Pollard
, who hadn't fired in the tournament until today, struck two sixes off the last two balls of the match to ensure his side's hopes of making it to the playoffs were not yet extinguished. In doing so, he left Lahore Qalandars on the verge of first-round elimination again.
The run chase of 156 had looked comfortable at the start for Karachi. Babar Azam paired up first with Mahela Jayawardene - who replaced Chris Gayle in the starting XI - and then with Kumar Sangakarra to ensure they were in control of the required rate, and had wickets in hand. But accurate bowling from Lahore's spin pair of Sunil Narine and Yasir Shah starved Karachi of boundaries, and as the asking rate began to rise, so did the tension. Sangakarra's men lost their heads in the middle briefly, with Ravi Bopara and Shoaib Malik running themselves out in a space of a few overs. Pollard and Imad Wasim then came together in a partnership that always seemed like they had slightly too much to do, never more so than when they needed 10 to win off the last two balls. Pollard was up to the task and took 12 runs.
Lahore will rue their own batting performance - an innings that never quite managed to gain momentum, for which the batsmen had only themselves to blame. Poor shot selection at inopportune times kept pegging them back, with Brendon McCullum, Umar Akmal and Grant Elliott falling in similar fashion, slicing the spinners up in the air. Shoaib Malik deserved credit for his 2 for 21, which helped ensure Lahore's total was just within reach.
Lahore had a decent platform of 68 for 2 at the end of their first nine overs, with McCullum appearing to ease himself back into form. Then, between the 10th and 15th overs, the innings completely unravelled as Lahore lost four wickets for 29 runs in 28 balls. Their most threatening players were back in the pavilion just when the innings should have begun to take off. It wasn't down to outstanding bowling, either; with the exception of Shoaib Malik, no Karachi bowler really bowled out of their skins. Instead, they waited for Lahore to make mistakes and the batsmen did just that.
Karachi had made it hard for themselves by losing five wickets for 103 by the end of the 15th over, three of them to run-outs. With the asking rate hovering over twelve for the last four overs, it increasingly appeared that the only thing standing between Karachi and elimination was the burly figure of Keiron Pollard. He hit at least one boundary in each of the last four overs, ensuring that even though the required rate was steep, it did not become insurmountable. Imad played a diligent hand, ensuring Pollard got as much of the strike as possible. The partnership kept Karachi in the game even when 10 required off the last two balls. The hapless Aamer Yamin slightly missed his yorker in both deliveries on both of them.
If it wasn't for Pollard's late show, this game would likely have been remembered for McCullum's tactics in the field. He was unusual, at times downright funky, with his bowling selections. Fakhar Zaman was handed the ball for the 13th over with Babar Azam in good touch, and three balls later, the batsman holed out on the boundary. Two overs later, McCullum brought himself on, presumably for no other reason except to have someone to turn the ball away from the left-handed Imad. That over went for 13, and half an hour later, McCullum suddenly didn't look quite so clever.
Karachi pipped Lahore to fourth place, and, unless they lose by a massive margin to Islamabad United tomorrow, they will go through to the playoffs. Lahore, who have dropped down to fifth, are staring at the likelihood of first-round elimination for the second successive season.