PSL 2019: Champions Islamabad United start title defence with Lahore Qalandars victory
Unbeaten 36 from Asif Ali sees Islamabad home by five wickets and four balls to spare in Dubai on Thursday
Pitbull might not have made it to Dubai after all, and the cricket did not start before 10pm – or 11pm for those tuning in to the television broadcast back in Pakistan.
But the 25,000 supporters that packed into the Dubai International Stadium did not seem to care, as Season 4 of the HBL Pakistan Super League was ushered in in rousing style on Thursday night.
The opening ceremony, complete with Boney M, Junoon, and some neatly-choreographed pyrotechnics was perfectly passable, even with the conspicuous absence of Pitbull.
Once the performances were complete, a cast of hundreds set about striking the stage, which had ringed the square.
Around 15 minutes later than originally scheduled, Mohammed Sami, the new captain of the defending champions Islamabad United, sent down the first ball of the season.
Fakhar Zaman, the Lahore Qalandars opener, promptly dispatched it in crisp fashion to the mid-off boundary. The world’s worst performing Twenty20 franchise were off and running.
Eventually they made it to 171 for eight from their 20 overs, on the back of a forceful innings of 65 from 44 balls by Fakhar. For much of the match, that appeared to be enough.
The much-anticipated first glimpse of AB de Villiers was delayed until the 11th over by a fine first-wicket alliance between Fakhar and Sohail Akhtar.
They shared 97 before Akhtar fell for 37, caught at the wicket by Luke Ronchi off a Faheem Ashraf bouncer that clipped the top of his gloves then the grille of his helmet.
De Villiers’ stay was brief but happily received, the crowd roaring “AB! AB!” as he did his best to find them. He hit two fours and one six, before being smartly caught on the long-off boundary by Phil Salt trying for another.
Even though he was making his team and PSL debut, the South African star was the most vocal player in the huddle before the Qalandars started the defence of their total.
By that point, it was midnight, and vast swathes of the capacity crowd had made for the exit, hurrying home to their beds.
Qalandars have finished bottom of the table in the three previous seasons of this competition, and had yet to win an opening match.
That said, they had entered into this campaign with vastly different personnel, a new captain in Mohammed Hafeez, and greatly inflated optimism.
The strength of their resolve was tested by a brisk opening stand worth 45 in five overs. Luke Ronchi, the tournament’s leading run scorer last year, lit the fire, most strikingly when he clubbed Shaheen Afridi over the rope at the end of the first over of the reply.
Lahore hit back, though, when both openers, Rizwan Hussain and Ronchi, fell in the space of consecutive deliveries from Rahat Ali. When Rahat then added a third by the end of the over, that of Salt, Qalandars were firmly in the ascendant.
The holders looked sunk when when Rahat returned to take the wicket of Cameron Delport.
But Asif Ali, who made a belligerent 36 not out from 19 balls, and Faheem Ashraf, who had earlier been the pick of Islamabad’s bowlers, broke their opponents with a match-defining, unbroken stand worth 59 in under five overs, to set up a five-wicket win.
Updated: February 15, 2019 08:34 AM