Mohammad Rizwan, Shahid Afridi and Carlos Brathwaite showed their class, but it was Lewis Gregory who delivered a late knockout punch to Multan Sultans and propelled Islamabad United to a stunning three-wicket victory in what was a closely-fought encounter. The 28-year-old all-rounder first picked up two wickets and then smoked 49* off 31 deliveries to help Islamabad get their PSL 2021 campaign off to a winning start on Sunday (February 21).
Asked to bat, Rizwan continued his outstanding form and crafted a 53-ball 71 to put Multan in a solid position. Islamabad however made a comeback in the second half of the innings and restricted Multan to 150/8 in their 20 overs. Debutant Mohammad Wasim took 3/29 and turned the tide in Islamabad's favour. In reply, the Shadab Khan-led side were reduced to 117/7 but that's when Gregory stepped up and took the game away from Multan. Islamabad eventually won the game with an over to spare.
RIZWAN CONTINUES HIS RICH VEIN OF FORM
As the first two games suggested, batting against the new ball in the first innings was not going to be easy and Hasan Ali and Faheem Ashraf did well to keep in-form Rizwan and Chris Lynn quiet. The two seamers kept hitting the length and gave nothing away in the first few overs. Lynn (1) tried to break the shackles but was caught behind in the second over while trying to run down the track against Faheem.
The top-order of Quetta Gladiators (17/2) and Peshawar Zalmi (19/3) didn't have a great time in the first two encounters and it felt like Multan were going to suffer the same fate but Rizwan and James Vince managed to steady the ship after Lynn departed early. Wasim released the pressure by bowling a couple of freebies and that gave Rizwan and Vince some momentum. Rizwan, who managed scores of 104*, 51 and 42 in the T20I series against South Africa, slammed Faheem for 6 and 4 in one over before Vince slapped Gregory for his first maximum over deep mid-wicket.
Zafar Gohar was introduced into the attack straight after the powerplay and the left-arm spinner would have got rid of Vince if Faheem wouldn't have dropped a simple catch at long-on. Vince (17-ball 16) however couldn't capitalise and fell to his fellow Englishman Gregory in the very next over. Meanwhile, Rizwan looked flawless against both pace and spin. The newly-appointed skipper kept playing his shots and didn't allow Gohar and Gregory to settle in.
WASIM AND CO. BRING ISLAMABAD BACK IN THE GAME
Playing his first competitive game this year, Islamabad captain Shadab looked a bit rusty at the start and was smoked for a couple of sixes Rilee Rossouw. The left-hander from South Africa smacked 25 off 14 deliveries before Shadab got his revenge. Rossouw was caught at short third man, while Sohaib Maqsood (2) was dismissed by Wasim in the next over. The onus was on Rizwan to carry on and the right-hander brought up his second PSL fifty off 31 deliveries.
Multan were 92/3 at the end of 11 overs but kept losing wickets at regular intervals and managed only 31 runs in the next five overs. Rizwan kept the scoreboard moving but couldn't find boundaries. Shadab (1/33) made a good comeback after leaking 25 in his first two overs, while Gregory (2/31) was brilliant with his change-ups. The boundaries finally came in the 18th over, with Faheem conceding 14 runs. Brathwaite tonked Faheem for a maximum, but Rizwan looked tired in the last few overs and was eventually knocked over by Wasim in the penultimate over.
Having brought up his fifty off 31 balls, Rizwan only scored 21 off his next 22 deliveries. Playing his first T2O game, Wasim then got rid of Afridi for a golden duck and finished with impressive figures of 3/29. Brathwaite (14-ball 22*) chipped in with a handy cameo but the Islamabad bowlers gave away only 58 runs in the last nine overs. Hasan Ali took only one wicket but conceded just 16 runs in his four overs.
AFRIDI SHINES, BUT GREGORY GETS THE JOB DONE
The key here was to not lose wickets in the first few overs and Philip Salt and Alex Hales got Islamabad off to a pretty decent start. Sohail Tanvir was economical with the new ball but the two openers went after young Sohaibullah in his first over. Salt (12-ball 13) started well but couldn't convert it into something substantial. The wicketkeeper-batsman mistimed a full-toss off Mohammad Umar and was caught at cow corner. Umar was lucky to get a wicket but was also whacked for two sixes by Hales in the same over.
Coming in at No. 3, Shadab (5) couldn't contribute much but Hales kept the attack going. He might have gone unsold in the 2021 IPL auction but the opener from England is currently one of the foremost batsmen on the T20 franchise circuit. Islamabad desperately needed Hales back in the hut and it was Afridi who did the job for them. The 40-year-old legspinner knocked over Hales for a 20-ball 29 and put his team in a commanding position. It was up to Hussain Talat and Asif Ali to form a partnership and take this game deep. The former reverse swept Afridi for a six, while Asif announced his arrival with back-to-back boundaries.
However, before Asif could do further damage, Afridi had him caught at long-on for 9. Before the dust had settled, Afridi effected a run out off his own bowling and sent back Iftikhar Ahmed (1) in the same over. Talat (16-ball 10) then perished to Khushdil Shah and Islamabad were reduced to 74/6 in a matter of two overs. The game was not done yet as Islamabad still had Faheem and Gregory at the crease.
Faheem, who has been in terrific form with the bat, played his shots from the word go and went after Umar, slamming him for 14 runs in an over. The two kept finding boundaries and got the equation down to 42 off 30. Afridi dropped Faheem off Brathwaite's bowling but redeemed himself in the same over by taking a simple catch at short cover.
Faheem scored 22 off 12 but couldn't finish the job. Gregory was still around and the all-rounder kept chipping away and got the equation down to 20 off 12. Brathwaite (2/23) played his part, but Tanvir didn't. Gregory first hammered Tanvir for a maximum and then crafted him for three consecutive boundaries to kill the game in the 19th over.