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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

Chris Gayle guides Balkh Legends to Afghanistan Premier League title

The West Indies batsman hits 56 to help his side to four-wicket win in final in Sharjah against Kabul Zwanan

It was Balkh Legends who had the most to celebrate after winning the Afghanistan Premier League title. Satish Kumar for the National
It was Balkh Legends who had the most to celebrate after winning the Afghanistan Premier League title. Satish Kumar for the National

Chris Gayle lived up to his billing as the biggest star of the Afghanistan Premier League as he took Balkh Legends to the inaugural title with a four-wicket win over Kabul Zwanan in Sunday’s final.

The West Indian opener hit 56, his fourth successive half-century in the competition, to see Balkh to the title at Sharjah Cricket Stadium.

While the tournament’s best-known player was the headline act in the final, Balkh were equally indebted to one of their youngest – and previously nondescript – players for their win.

Qais Ahmed, an 18-year-old leg-spinner, upstaged his noted compatriot Rashid Khan as he took five for 18 as Kabul were limited to 132 for nine from their 20 overs.

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The youngster had never previously taken as many as three wickets in a senior T20 match. In the final, he accounted for Wayne Parnell, Javed Ahmadi, Laurie Evans, Rashid and Muslim Musa.

Balkh’s success was a remarkable effort given the build-up they had to the competition. The day before the event, the group of mostly strangers who had been assembled under the banner of Balkh Legends had to train together in their own casual gear.

The fact the team’s kit had yet to arrive was indicative of a greater malaise. Earlier that day, Herschelle Gibbs, the former South Africa batsman who had initially been announced as the team’s coach, said he was not actually going to be involved after all, as the team’s owner had pulled out.

Simon Helmot was placed in charge instead, and the Australian, along with his savvy captain Mohammed Nabi, quickly fashioned a competitive outfit.

Gayle himself did not arrive until midway through the league phase, as he stayed back in his native Jamaica to complete his final season in domestic limited-overs cricket.

Understandably, given he had travelled halfway across the world to get to Sharjah, he took some while to find his feet.

Once he did, though, neither he nor his side ever looked back. He made scores of 80, 73, 54 and 56 in the last four matches he played, as he and Balkh peaked at the business end of the competition.

He was given some chances in the final.

Rashid, dropped him on 10, when Balkh were 28 for two in the sixth over, and he was later missed on when on 37, by Nasir Totakhil on the fine-leg boundary.

The job was not completely finished when Gayle was caught by Ingram off Rashid. But Ravi Bopara, the experienced former England batsman, stayed to see Balkh home with 11 deliveries to spare.