Gayle blitz seals Karachi’s playoffs berth; Lahore dumped out

There were quite a few raised eyebrows when the Karachi Kings management sat Chris Gayle out of the clash against Lahore Qalandars on Saturday (February 25). By his own lofty standards, the burly Jamaican had endured a rather lukewarm season after swapping the Lahore franchise for Karachi’s blue. And so when Gayle plodded his way to a 34-ball 29 against Quetta – the team mangement considered it prudent to draft in the more sedate, but reliable Mahela Jayawardene in his place for the Lahore game.

Reinstated for the very crucial fixture against the defending champions Islamabad United on Saturday, Gayle walloped five sixes and two fours in a 17-ball blitz of 44 that helped the Kings chase down Islamabad’s 123 with a ball to spare and progress to the playoffs. The result meant, Karachi and Islamabad would meet once again in the second qualifying final. Lahore Qalandars, Gayle’s previous franchise, missed out on playoffs qualification for a second season running as a consequence of the day’s result.

There was all to play for when Gayle walked out to bat with the promising Babar Azam. The Kings needed 123 in the truncated 15-overs-a-side game for a win but their more important target was 111 – which would effectively keep their Net Run Rate above that of Lahore’s, thereby ensuring qualification.

After edging his first delivery between the keeper and slip, Gayle managed only four singles off his next five deliveries to steady himself. It was all he needed to unleash himself on the opposition. Against Mohammad Irfan, Gayle biffed a couple of sixes either side of the cow corner and followed that with a club down the ground for four. Then off Saeed Ajmal’s next over, he hit three successive maximums before failing with an encore attempt. By the sixth over, Karachi had 64 on the board. They were denied victory in a canter by an inspired spell from Shadab Khan (3 for 13), who kept alive Islamabad’s hopes of topping the table and getting two cracks at making the final with an inspired bowling effort. But the experience of Kieron Pollard and Ravi Bopara allowed the Kings to chase down the seven required off the final over.

Given their wobbly league stage form, Karachi would have taken a washout and the free point it promised to seal qualification ahead of the match. Instead, on a rain-hit day in Dubai they were forced to seek progression through a 15-over shoot-out against the defending champions. Kumar Sangakkara though did well to win the first bout with the coin flip. That meant his batters, which included the returning Gayle, had their qualification requirements underlined for them.

Despite Imad Wasim conceding 11 in the first over of the match, the Kings did well to ensure Islamabad weren’t given too big a head start in the contest. After a 37-run opening stand, Ben Duckett fell to a stunning Kieron Pollard at mid-on attempting a third boundary on the trot. While Dwayne Smith marched along with little fuss, Islamabad lost their way through the middle of the innings – managing only two boundaries between overs 5-10. In the process, they also lost Hussain Talat and Shane Watson.

Brad Haddin’s arrival gave the Islamabad innings the much-need thrust. Usama Mir’s third over, the 11th off the innings, brought Islamabad 18 runs with both Haddin and Smith helping themselves to a six each. The duo added 40 in 3.4 overs before falling to Usman Khan off successive deliveries. Mohammad Amir added a couple of wickets to his own kitty even as Shadab Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq tonked a six each to push the total past the 120-run mark, thereby forcing Karachi to score at nearly eight an over in a pressure game to earn their progress to the next stage of the tournament. It was a small matter for arguably the format’s most decorated batsman, who showed why he isn’t the spent force many thought he’d become.

Brief Scores: Islamabad United 123/7 in 15 overs (Dwayne Smith 49, Brad Haddin 20; Sohail Khan 2-23) lost to Karachi Kings 127/4 in 14.5 overs (Chris Gayle 44, Babar Azam 27; Shadab Khan 3-13) by six wickets.

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