Two years ago, Peshawar Zalmi needed just eight runs to seal victory in the playoff game against Quetta Gladiators. In a frenzied finish, Quetta's Aizaz Cheema conceded just six, condemning Peshawar to a one-run defeat.
Last year, Peshawar needed seven to secure safe passage to the final. In another dramatic climax, Mohammad Nawaz restricted Quetta to just five, culminating in last three balls being wickets and consigning Peshawar to yet another one-run loss.
This year, it was Peshawar doing the defending, with the game having gone to the final over. The task for the bowler Liam Dawson wasn't nearly as challenging; he had a full 25 runs to play with. The first five balls were smashed for 22 runs, and with three runs needed off the last ball, Dawson managed to get his side over the line by some fortune. By one run, of course.
Those six balls swept everyone at the Gaddafi Stadium off their feet, in thrall to the prospect of a victory so utterly improbable it barely registered as it unfolded in front of everyone's eyes. Given the predictability of chasing 25 off the last over, no matter who the bowler or batsman is, can never be a part of any side's plans. It isn't the last over that deserves to be picked apart for its strategic failings, but what came in the few overs before it as a contest that Quetta had a vice-like grip over.
Ten overs earlier, Quetta seemed to be cruising to victory. Sarfraz Ahmed and Nawaz, both promoted up the order in the absence of Shane Watson and Kevin Pietersen, were rising admirably to the occasion. After the loss of two early wickets, the pair accumulated runs efficiently without ever needing to take risks, and before long, the partnership had stretched to 63 runs off 45 balls. The required rate was around 7.50, eight wickets were still in hand and Quetta's best batsman, Rilee Rossouw, was yet to come.
But Nawaz came down the pitch to attack Sameen Gul, looking to launch him down the ground. The ball climbed higher than Nawaz had probably predicted, and he ended up top-edging a catch to third man. He would have been disappointed, but to add insult to injury, his captain at the other end gave him a proper earful as he trudged back to the dugout.
Taking strike the very next ball, Sarfraz danced down the track, also failing to deal with Gul's bouncer, and skied it for a comfortable catch. Both batsmen, moments earlier unbeaten on 35 each, were immediately consigned to watching briefs for the rest of the game.
It was that passage of play that a visibly disappointed Moin Khan, head coach of Quetta, singled out in his press conference. "You have to take into account the needs of the team when deciding how to go about your shot-making," he said. "So when you're going for unnecessary shots, shots that aren't required, then you'll find yourself in the sort of situation we found ourselves in."
Directly addressing the two set batsmen departing off successive balls, Moin said: "I think you should be responsible and smart enough. Both guys were set. When a good partnership is built and one guy plays an unnecessary shot and gets out, the guy batting with him naturally begins to feel the pressure a bit too. The bowler bowled Sarfraz a bouncer the very next delivery, and he couldn't cope in the moment. I admit we've made mistakes, and when wickets fall, the game changes. Around the ninth over when we had wickets in hand it was beginning to look like the game was one-sided in our favour."
The two wickets had a massive influence on Quetta's momentum in the overs that followed. Rossouw, who had established a fearsome reputation in the UAE, scratched around for an 8 off 14 balls before holing out. Thisara Perera, who by then was considered Quetta's final hope, had only arrived that afternoon, and the fatigue showed. He was caught at long-on for 12, and Mahmudullah could never find the shots to keep up with the asking rate.
"We were waiting for the final Dawson over, we knew we'd have an opportunity there," Moin said. "But in the middle overs before that, we were never even close to the asking rate; we went at about five an over. If we had even done slightly better than that, it's possible we would have won this game with a few balls to spare because we knew there could be some big runs in the Dawson over."
Asked how he felt after the result, Moin was curt without being insincere. "Hurt," he said. Peshawar, of course, would simply argue they had - finally - wrenched the medicine bottle out of Quetta's hands, and shoved it down their protesting throats.