Cheema heroics inspire Gladiators to PSL T20 final
Dubai - At the end of it all, what separated the Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi was just one run in the first qualifying final in Dubai.
It was Friday. It was a sell-out. And true its billing, the first play-off of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) served up a lip-smacking contest. And fittingly enough, this low-scoring affair had tooth for nail-cutters and a thrilling finish.
At the end of it all, what separated the Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi was just one run. The man most of them had come to see fire-Shahid Afridi, the Peshawar Zalmi captain-had failed to spark, having come and gone in a jiffy.
But West Indian Darren Sammy had reignited the tricky chase to bring them within striking distance. But then, pacer Aizaz Cheema, Pakistan's hero in their Asia Cup title triumph in Dhaka four years ago, replicated those final over heroics to just about take the Gladiators over the line. The victory from the tiniest of margins, nestled the Sarfraz Ahmed-led and Sir Vivian Richards-inspired side into the box seat of the final, pencilled in for Tuesday night.
Peshawar Zalmi were forced to make a mountain out of a molehill target of 134 after the Gladiators attack of Anwar Ali and left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz made early inroads.
And with Grant Elliott too testing them, Zalmi made a hash of the chase. The stadium fell silent after Afridi's stay lasted four balls for just two. But Sammy stood his ground though and brought them back on track and took them just about close enough. But he couldn't see them through, falling for 38 from 29 balls with five boundaries and a six.
It was still anyone's for the taking with eight required from the final over, while the Gladiators needing three wickets. Cheema, who had bowled three wicketless overs until then, was called in, and the 36-year-old responded by snapping up two quick wickets to line himself up for a hat-trick.
And though, Zalmi denied him that, Cheema and the Gladiators had done just about enough to clinch this one. Zalmi needed three off the last ball but Mohammad Asghar could only run a single after which jubilant scenes by the Gladiators lit up the Dubai sky.
Earlier, a Kevin Pietersen and Kumar Sangakkara rearguard pulled the Gladiators back from a horrendous start to post a total they could just about defend. KP stroked his way to 53 from 38 balls with five boundaries and two sixes, while Sanga made 37 from 29 balls with the help of six boundaries. It may have been disappointing but all is not lost for Zalmi though. They get another crack at the final when they take on either the Karachi Kings or Islamabad United in the third qualifier.
133 all out in 19.3 overs (Pietersen 53, Sangakkara 37, Wahab Riaz 3-17, Shaun Tait 2-23)
132 for 9 in 20 overs (Sammy 38, Grant Elliott 3-19, Mohammad Nawaz 3-27, Aizaz Cheema 2-34)