Multan Sultans 206 for 4 (Maqsood 65*, Rossouw 50, Gul 2-26) beat Peshawar Zalmi 159 for 9 (Malik 48, Muzarabani 2-26) by 47 runs
In the final for the first time, Multan Sultans completed one of the great turnarounds in a franchise cricket season to lift their maiden title by comprehensively defeating Peshawar Zalmi in the PSL 2021 final.
Two blistering half-centuries from Sohaib Maqsood and Rilee Rossouw made them favourites at the halfway mark, after which regular wickets at key intervals saw off the Zalmi challenge. Although the tournament's highest wicket-taker Shahnawaz Dahani finished wicketless, the others stepped up on the final day. Blessing Muzarabani and Imran Khan took two wickets each at economies of under seven, and the ageless Imran Tahir collected three.
Sultans started the second leg of the PSL fifth on the points table - having lost four of their first five matches - but led by their captain Mohammad Rizwan, went on to win four of the next five to finish the league stage second. They then swatted the Islamabad United challenge in the first qualifier and the win in the final was the crowning glory in their magnificent UAE leg of the season.
For Zalmi, it was the third time in the last four seasons that they faltered in the final. They failed to capitalise after keeping Sultans quiet for the first half of the first innings, and their hero of the two eliminators Hazratullah Zazai faced only five balls. Those factors, coupled with the lack of a big partnership a la Maqsood and Rossouw, resulted in the 47-run defeat for Wahab Riaz's men.
Masood, Rizwan fall after blossoming start
Sent in to bat, it was a slow start for Sultans. Openers Shan Masood and Rizwan were kept quiet by Sameen Gul and Mohammad Irfan in the opening overs, and it was as late as the fourth over that the acceleration began. It was kickstarted by Rizwan as he drove Irfan for a four and then pulled him for six. Masood then cut and flicked Gul for three fours to take Sultans to 42 after the Powerplay, and it seemed the base was set for both batters to continue their assault.
However, Masood, on 37, fell victim to a Mohammad Imran slower ball in the ninth over and saw his off stump shattered and Rizwan soon followed when he chopped a wide ball from the same bowler to the wicketkeeper. From 66 for no loss, Sultans had swiftly fallen to 83 for 2, and only nine overs remained in the innings.
Maqsood, Rossouw put on a show
It was just a few hours earlier that Maqsood was added to the Pakistan T20I squad travelling to England following news of Haider Ali's bio-bubble breach, and the batter showed why he had been called up.
He began by hitting Riaz for four and six off the first two balls of the 13th and bookended the over with another boundary. He then showed power and finesse in the 15th by hammering Imran for a six over long-on and playing a reverse pat for four behind square. Off Imran's next over he got inside the line to place a four behind square, following it up with a powerful six over extra cover. By the time the 17th over was done, he had raced away to a 23-ball fifty - his fifth half-century of the season - and celebrated his return to the national set-up after five years.
But while Maqsood's big shots were a sight to behold, there was another man causing equal damage at the other end. Rossouw started his innings with a first-ball four, and that was the tempo he played with all innings. Sandwiched between Maqsood's assault of Riaz and Imran, he smacked two sixes and a four in a 20-run 14th over from Amad Butt. He started the over by punching Butt down the ground for four. Next ball, he scooped a six over long leg and a few balls later deposited Butt for six over square leg. Rossouw eventually fell for a 21-ball 50, but by then the 44-ball stand of 98 had demoralised the Zalmi bowlers and had Sultans dreaming of 200.
And 200 would be breached in the final over. Maqsood survived a caught after Butt's waist-high full toss was deemed a no-ball, after which the free hit was deposited over long-on. Then came a fortuitous six, as Sherfane Rutherford failed to take a clean catch at the straight boundary. By the end of the innings Maqsood finished unbeaten on 65 in 35 balls, Sultans had reached 206, and Zalmi needed to pull off a record chase after conceding 116 runs in their last eight overs.
Akmal keeps Zazai at the non-striker's
Zazai's back-to-back half-centuries in the two eliminators had dragged Zalmi to the final, but on the night he faced only three balls in the first five overs. While Kamran Akmal kept finding occasional boundaries in the opening salvo of the chase, he struggled to get the singles, starving his in-form partner of the strike. By the time Zalmi had reached 36 in five overs, Akmal had scored all those runs.
The first time Zazai faced the first ball of an over was the last over of the Powerplay, delivered by Muzarabani. It started by Zazai swatting a length ball over square leg for six in what seemed like an ominous sign for Sultans but Muzarabani returned with a slower ball, angling away, that Zazai was tempted to cut over the off side. However, all he could get was an as thick edge, and Masood at point gobbled it up. Imran Khan then sent Akmal packing by bowling a length ball on off that stayed a bit low and shattered the batter's stumps.
Malik and Rutherford try their best
With Malik and half-centurion from Eliminator 2 Jonathan Wells around, Zalmi still had enough in the tank to pull the chase off. But boundaries after the Powerplay dried up, and in an attempt to take a second run against Rossouw's arm at long-on, Wells was run out at the bowler's end for a 13-ball 6. In the five overs after the Powerplay, Zalmi could add only 27.
But in Zalmi, the four-time finalists, there was still some fight left. Malik pumped Imran for six and four after surviving being caught off a front-foot no-ball and then hammered Tahir for sixes over long-on and long-off in the 14th over that went for 21.
However, Malik was caught on 48, and while Rutherford kept scything away at deliveries that were in his arc, it was Tahir - the 42-year-old Tahir - who finally broke Zalmi's back. The West Indian looked to slog Tahir over deep midwicket, only to top edge it for Rizwan to swallow. That had Tahir running towards the dugout, and he would do that two more times in the over. By the time the 18th over was starting off, the remaining Sultans squad members were already standing shoulder to shoulder to run in for the celebrations.
Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @sreshthx