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Shaheen and Zaman the heroes as Lahore Qalandars defend PSL title

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Published in Cricket
Saturday, 18 March 2023 12:26

Lahore Qalandars 200 for 6 (Shafique 65, Shaheen 44*, Mir 3-24) beat Multan Sultans 199 for 8 (Rossouw 52, Shaheen 4-51, Rashid 2-26) by one run

The PSL ends as it begun. A clinical Lahore Qalandars produced a stone-cold death-bowling performance to pip Multan Sultans by one run, just as they did to kick off this season four weeks earlier. The closest PSL final there's ever been came down to the final ball, with Sultans needing four to wrench the title away from Qalandars. In the end, a heroic Khushdil Shah was run-out diving to complete the third at the non-striker's end, and the Qalandars' title defence was complete.
It all feels like it's come full circle; these two sides, after all, played the previous season's final too, which threw up the same result. But for Qalandars, this is a remarkable turnaround, a side that was a laughing stock for the first half of this league's history. They have now become the undisputed dominant force in the PSL, becoming the first side to retain the title.
But all of that is secondary to the drama and madness of the final over, the final ball. The first game this season had boiled down to Zaman Khan bowling to Khushdil, with the Sultans needing four for victory, and ending up one run shy. Today, as Zaman bowled the tournament's final ball to Khushdil, the Sultans needed four. But there was a yorker, a scuffed squeeze into the on side, a desperate scramble to steal an extra run, a run-out. And then there was bedlam.
Qalandars looked to have edged Sultans out by the time the final two overs rolled around. Their death-bowling machine had clicked into gear; Shaheen Shah Afridi, Zaman and Haris Rauf had begun to asphyxiate Sultans. Tim David, Kieron Pollard and Anwar Ali fell in the three preceding overs, and with 35 required in the last 12 balls, Sultans appeared to have run out of road.

But Khushdil and Abbas Afridi capitalised on a rare wayward death over from Rauf to plunder 22, setting up a grandstand finish with 13 needed off the final six balls. Zaman's wily pace variations gave Sultans nothing until the final two balls, but a comical pair of byes after Zaman missed the chance to run Khushdil out from three yards out meant the danger man was on strike to pummel the penultimate ball away for four. But Zaman nailed his length once more, and Sultans ended up just short.

An age ago, Qalandars had won the toss and unsurprisingly opted to bat, with Mirza Baig flying out of the blocks. But Fakhar Zaman at the other end was strangely subdued, eschewing the usual flamboyance for an abundance of caution. When he top-edged one to Usama Mir, he had scored 39 off 34; never in PSL history has he had a lower strike rate for an innings where he scored at least 30 runs.

But Usama was only just getting started with the wickets. On a surface where he suddenly found grip and bounce, he burst through Sam Billings' defences his next over, before Ahsan Hafeez was trapped in front for a golden duck. Sensing the potency of spin, Rizwan gave Khushdil another over, and he duly cleaned up Sikandar Raza with his first ball, leaving Qalandars tottering at 112 for 5.

David Wiese was getting ready to charge out, only to look up and found Shaheen had pulled rank and was already halfway to the batting crease. Over a decisive, momentum shifting final few overs, he demonstrated why. Bolstering a reputation he has unexpectedly accrued as a middle-order power-hitter, he bludgeoned an unbeaten 44 off 15 deliveries as Qalandars amassed 85 runs in the final five overs. A takedown of Ihsanullah in the 17th over was particularly notable, the 24 that came off it setting Qalandars up for the huge finish they would achieve. He was assisted by some notably ordinary bowling as Sultans crumpled in the face of the onslaught, the difference in death bowling between the two sides proving crucial to the final outcome.

But the way Sultans started, it need not have gone down to the wire. Mohammad Rizwan knew an innings of accumulation wouldn't do today, and flew off the mark, smashing four boundaries of his first seven balls to set the tone, including a chastening takedown of Shaheen in the third over that produced 20 runs. When Wiese uprooted Usman Khan's stumps, Rizwan was more than happy to turn over power-hitting responsibility to Rilee Rossouw.
The South African is PSL royalty by now, and was happy to oblige. He underscored his quality by taking on Zaman, exploiting either side square of the wicket to crunch three boundaries off the fifth over, before helping plunder 16 off Wiese immediately afterwards. Rauf wasn't spared, either, his first two balls hammered for four and six as Sultans stayed well ahead of the rate. A drive off Rashid Khan brought up a 30-ball half-century; Sultans had stormed to 105 for 1 by now, with half the innings to go.

But Rashid wasn't to be kept down, and as one kept low to sneak through the South African's defences, Sultans nerves began to fray. Rossouw didn't appreciate the Afghan's send-off and tension crept back into the game. A stunning effort on the boundary from Wiese converted what should have been six into the dismissal of Rizwan, Qalandars were furtively dragging the asking rate back up.

David and Pollard should have been well-placed to correct that, but leaving too much for the final overs against a bowling attack of Qalandars' quality had bitten Sultans before. Pollard miscued Shaheen straight up into the air before Qalandars' captain returned to remove David, Anwar and Mir all in the same over, and an asking rate that hovered around 11 just four overs ago was up in excess of 17 now.

Khushdil and Afridi would nearly pull it off, but in the end, in a contest that went down to the barest of margins, Qalandars, and a partisan home crowd, would get their way. Players from both sides sunk to their knees while fireworks erupted above. The PSL trophy's destination was decided. It was going nowhere after all.

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