Zazai, Wells and Irfan set up Peshawar Zalmi's PSL final date with Multan Sultans
United knocked out in the second eliminator after producing PSL's best-ever league stage performance
Peshawar Zalmi 177 for 2 (Zazai 66, Wells 55, Malik 32*) beat Islamabad United 174 for 9 (Hasan 45, Riaz 2-35) by eight wickets
The league stage suggested that Islamabad United were red-hot favourites for their third PSL title, but a comprehensive Peshawar Zalmi performance guaranteed that they wouldn't even make it to the final.
A ruthless bowling performance from Zalmi was followed up by a clinical chase, spearheaded by the irrepressible Hazratullah Zazai and debutant Jonathan Wells. Their 126-run partnership led to an eight-wicket rout of Shadab Khan's side, with the chase of 176 was achieved with more than three overs to spare.
Zalmi were on top from start to finish, aside from a four-over spell at the back-end of the first innings, where a spirited Hasan Ali knock ensured that United would at least remain competitive in the contest. The match began with an unfortunate run-out of Usman Khawaja when Shoaib Malik was controversially deemed to have got his foot to a ball that went on to clatter into the non-striker's stumps. Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz kept a lid on things, even if Colin Munro cut loose from time to time, ending up as United's most potent hope in the first half of the innings.
But it was the middle stages where Zalmi pulled clear. Amad Butt and Umaid Asif came back in strongly to pick up regular wickets, with Shadab, Iftikhar Ahmed and Brandon King all falling cheaply. There was a danger that United would end up being bowled out under 120 before Hasan's brutal onslaught gave his side hope.
In reply, United kept Zazai on a leash for the most part, bowling away from his hitting arc. But the failure to get more wickets up top meant there was always the fear that Zalmi had enough firepower at the end to catch up with a climbing run rate. Wells and Zazai saw off the pressure without throwing their wickets away, the Australian doing particularly well in his first game to adjust to conditions and pace his innings accordingly. It was in Shadab's third over that they cut loose, smashing the United captain for three sixes in four balls on a forgettable day for Shadab; he would go on to concede 55 in his four. He has never been as expensive in PSL history, and his team was on the ropes.
Zazai and Wells seemed to mirror each other for most of the stand, which was finally broken after 126 hard-fought runs when Zazai chopped on to Mohammad Wasim. The asking rate was almost run-a-ball by then, and a Shoaib Malik blitz - 32 off 10 balls - made light work of the last rites.
The Hasan Ali cameo
Is it really a cameo if a player ends up being their side's top-scorer? United looked like they had blown their chances at a spot in the final spectacularly after a listless display from the top and middle-order saw them reduced to 110 for 8. Crucially, though, Hasan was still out there, and he wasn't in the mood to simply bat out 20 overs. Two fours and two sixes off Asif's 17th over just whet his appetite as the 26-year old let loose in a blur of monstrous shot-making. Zalmi were guilty of being one-paced to him, and Ali loved the ball coming onto the bat; Riaz was tonked for 19 in the penultimate over as the two-time champions plundered 64 off the final four.
Wasim offered fantastic support at the other end, thumping a pair of sixes on his own as the frontal assault continued from both sides. Hasan, meanwhile, was heroically run out trying to get back on strike for the final delivery, having raced to a sizzling 45 off 16. No player deserved a half-century more, but the knock had given his side more than a fair chance.
Mohammad Irfan's eventful day
Plenty went on with Irfan today, but one thing it really shouldn't detract everyone from is the veteran's unerring consistency of performance. For the third consecutive game, Irfan conceded exactly 21 runs in his four overs, astonishing figures as bowlers around him have found themselves clubbed to all parts. The pace and length variations continue to remain unpredictable, as batters as diverse as power hitters and anchors struggle to settle against the giant Zalmi bowler.
He also doubled up with the priceless wicket of Munro at a time when the New Zealander had helped United off to a flying start and looked exceptionally threatening. He was unfortunate not to have had him a few balls earlier, coaxing an outside edge that Kamran Akmal spilled. Off the final ball of the over, though, Munro played at one down leg side, and this time, Irfan had the wicket he deserved.
It wasn't - as we now know - what will dominate Irfan-related chat in the game's aftermath. He pulled up with an injury at the end of his spell umpire Aleem Dar deemed less than convincing, refusing to allow a substitute fielder in his place. That meant Zalmi were forced to play with just ten players for a brief period before Khalid Usman was permitted to come on as a cover. But Irfan's most salient contribution to the contest had already been made.
Where they stand
United are eliminated despite boasting the best ever group stage performance in the PSL. Zalmi go through to face Multan Sultans in Thursday's final.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000