Abu Dhabi T10 League - Northern Warriors, Delhi Bulls set up final showdown
Dwayne Bravo and Lendl Simmons played major roles in their respective teams' wins in the Eliminator games
Northern Warriors produced a sensational seven-wicket victory over Team Abu Dhabi to book their place in the final of this year's Abu Dhabi T10, a game in which Lendl Simmons was the eventual hero to set up a showdown with Dwayne Bravo's Delhi Bulls.
Simmons had been given an almighty send-off by the captain as Bravo's outfit became the first team to seal their spot in the final and he made sure the two would meet again in Saturday's showpiece at Zayed Cricket Stadium. He made an unbeaten 27-ball 46.
In reply to Team Abu Dhabi's 114 for 1, during which Fabian Allen took 4-13, Simmons had 25 from 20 balls by the eight over, with Warriors needing 34 from their 12 remaining deliveries. He and Rovman Powell (49) took Obed McCoy's ninth over for 18 before Simmons launched Tom Helm for two sixes in the final over to seal a thrilling win. It was heartbreak for Team Abu Dhabi, but sparked joyous scenes on the Warriors bench, who now have Bravo and co. in their sights.
"Mr. Champion! Have some respect!" were the words ringing in Simmons' ear after good friend Bravo accounted for his wicket in the opening game. His dramatic match-winning performance - after being restored to opening the batting - that closed out the day relieved Warriors captain Nicholas Pooran of a great deal of frustration as his team stared down the barrel of exit.
"Simmo had a tough tournament to be honest, batting lower down in the innings and today going back at the top of the order, he's proven to everyone how good of a player he is," said Pooran. " He's a big match player and tonight he proved that again for us.
"I felt like Delhi Bulls and Northern Warriors, we both played fantastic throughout the tournament. I think these are the two best teams in the tournament and we deserve to play the finals. The series is 1-1 right now, so tomorrow is a final and we want to get a win but at the same time we have to do the right things because they are playing well."
The finalists' meeting in the day's opening game, found Bravo - who won the last edition with Maratha Arabians and made the switch to the Bulls alongside coach Andy Flower, who's also a reigning champion - in inspired form.
It was Bravo who took 2-14 to reduce the Warriors to 97 for 7 from their 10 overs, a total Bravo's team chased down with eight balls to spare. Bravo's celebration of Simmons' wicket was an animated example of one of T20 cricket's most decorated players once again turning up and turning it on when it mattered most.
"[I had] no nerves," said Bravo. "I look forward to it because it's a contest. For me, I challenge myself against these kind of moments and in big games you want big players to turn up. It was my night tonight and tomorrow can be a different story but I always look forward to the contest and competing against the best in the world.
"Lendl Simmons is a personal friend of mine, we've been playing cricket [together] since we were 15-years-old so it's always good to get him out. But in a big game like this, to get two key wickets, I'm very happy."
Bravo added that he "made a pledge" to the Delhi Bulls' ownership that he would lead them to the final and he has emphatically backed that up. He has also donned his self-coined 'Mr. Champion' moniker on the back of his shirt this season and the man with 15 T20 winners' medals on his mantlepiece believes he's living up to the name once more, concluding: "I guess Mr. Champion is working because I'm in another final!"
Team Abu Dhabi had beaten Qalandars to reach the final eliminator of the night courtesy of stunning bowling performances from Naveen-ul-Haq (2-6), McCoy (2-11) and Helm (2-22). Having won each of their first five games, it was a disappointing end to the tournament for Qalandars, who also ran the risk of fielding a visibly injured Shahid Afridi solely as a batsman.
Afridi did top score with 24 but his side's effort of 83-7 was some way short of putting the game beyond Team Abu Dhabi. Following their exit, Qalandars' Australian wicket-keeper batsman Ben Dunk said any risk playing Afridi was worth it.
"It was a must-win game and we needed our best players on the park and he's one of our best players," Dunk said. "I think he's in unbelievable shape for someone that's played the amount of cricket he has and I'm hoping that the injury isn't too severe so we see him again in the PSL. To share a dressing room with a living legend of the game is pretty special."
As for Team Abu Dhabi, having come so close and then missed out on a first final on home soil was a bitter end to an otherwise excellent tournament. Luke Wright, Team Abu Dhabi captain, said: "We came so close tonight, it's hugely disappointing but I'm proud of the lads."