If there is one thing the Pakistan Super League (PSL) has provided plentifully, it is low-scoring thrillers. There have been a handful of them, and Friday evening's sellout crowd at the Dubai Cricket Stadium witnessed another humdinger as Quetta Gladiators became the first team to enter the PSL final. Here are five takeaways from Quetta's win off the last ball against crowd favourites Peshawar Zalmi.
Ball of the tournament
Wow. There is no other way to describe the delivery from Quetta left-armer spinner Mohammad Nawaz that castled Brad Hodge, Twenty20 cricket's current second-highest run-maker. The ball dipped, broke away, and hit the off stump, leaving you in awe. One of the factors that separates any ordinary delivery from that ball is the quality of the batsman; Hodge is one of the most versatile and intelligent T20 batsman and would have guessed Nawaz's plan. The previous delivery Nawaz had bowled the arm ball to Mohammad Hafeez, who was stranded in his crease and surprised by the pace. Against Hodge, Nawaz delivered the ball from wide of the crease. The ball then pitched on middle stump as Hodge lunged to defend it. But just as he thought he had the line covered the ball drifted in, dipped and turned away upon pitching. The next instant Hodge watched the ball knock back his off stump.
Elliott swings the pendulum
Grant Elliott seems a quiet, thinking man. Last March he brought Dale Steyn to his knees by knocking South Africa out of the World Cup in the last over in memorable game at Eden Park. Today he made use of the slowness of the surface by first bowling the perfect legcutter that deceived Jonny Bairstow who failed to connect while attempting a cut and was bowled. Shahid Yousuf did not last long as he played into the hands of deep midwicket, but the biggest body blow Peshawar suffered when their captain Shahid Afridi meekly surrendered, giving an easy catch to Nawaz at point. From 53 for 3 in 10 overs, at the hands of Elliott Peshawar had plunge to 84 for 6 with five overs to go. Quetta had now got a foot firmly into the victory door.
Boom, boom, busted
In the six innings he has batted so far in the tournament Afridi's aggregate is 49 runs with the highest of 17 not out. The aura is still there, the swagger still intact. But the promise of destroying the opponent, of injecting the Zalmi's lower order with not just with positive spirit but with robust cameos is where Afridi is missing out.
Cheema, the last over specialist
As he lined up to bowl the final over, from which Peshawar required eight runs to win, few of the Pakistani journalists recollected Pakistan and Quetta fast bowler Aizaz Cheema's last-over heroics in the Asia Cup final four years ago. Cheema proved his mettle once again today as he handled the pressure and negated the heavy dew on the ground that had made the ball wet and difficult to handle. Probably due to that dew, his attempt to bowl a yorker had only resulted in a low full toss which Wahab Riaz had happily lofted for a four. Now Cheema decided he would just pitch it short and let the batsman take the risks as he had pushed the fielders to the edge of the rope. As the ball rushed high towards him, Wahab played it an ungainly fashion and managed just a single. Cheema then banged the net one short again at a high speed. Emerging Peshawar fast bowler Hasan Ali tried to hit hard and out of the ground, but his top edge could barely reach midwicket; Cheema ran over and completed the catch. Next ball, another short delivery, Wahab tried to upper cut but just spooned an easy catch to Ahmed Shehzad. When Mohammad Ashgar failed to get more than a single off the last ball, Cheema was jumping in joy and screaming in delight. It was a high pressure situation, and he had come out unscathed.
The real cheerleaders
Unlike the glamorous IPL where cheerleaders dance along the boundary, in the PSL the fans have been the actual cheerleaders. Thousands of fans had already lined up by Friday afternoon to buy the tickets for the first playoff. By the time the match was an hour old, thousands were still waiting outside, frustrated at missing out on the action. Inside the stadium, even after Afridi departed quickly, the crowd did not disperse. They went quiet briefly, but then they revived, chanting the team names and both teams' anthems to make the on-field drama more compelling. Considering the PSL is being played on foreign soil, it is hard to create the crowd loyalty, a big feature in tournaments like the IPL and Big Bash League. Still, the PSL crowds have turned out in support all teams, a big shot in the arm for the tournament.