12 matches played, 12 matches won by teams batting second, 12 matches won by teams winning the toss. That’s a brief summary of the 2021 Pakistan Super League until now. On Tuesday (March 2), it was Islamabad United who chose to bowl first after winning the toss and ended up securing a comfortable six-wicket win against Quetta Gladiators.
Nothing seems to be going right for the Gladiators at the moment. They have been on the wrong side of the coin flip and subsequently the result in each of their contests so far this season. In this game, they got off to a poor start after being put into bat.
Hasan Ali was brilliant with the new ball for United and he began proceedings by taking the wicket of Saim Ayub in the first over of the innings, with Paul Stirling pulling off a top catch at point. A couple of overs later, Faheem Ashraf produced a brilliant delivery to dismiss the other opener Cameron Delport. And things didn't get any better for the Gladiators as Hasan returned an over later to send Faf du Plessis back to the pavillion for 17. While the former South Africa captain reviewed the leg-before-wicket decision, it only resulted in Quetta losing a review.
Sarfaraz Ahmed and Azam Khan put together a fine partnership in Quetta's previous game, but the latter couldn't get going here as he became Ashraf's second wicket of the innings in the final over of the Powerplay.
Heading into this match, Shadab Khan had taken just one wicket in his last six T20 matches, but he managed to get an important breakthrough here, getting Ben Cutting stumped for 23. Cutting had started well and looked to counterattack after the early fall of wickets but couldn't make a big score. Interestingly, since 2019, Cutting has been dismissed eight times by a leg-spinner in T20 cricket at a batting average of only 17.6.
At the time, the Gladiators were in huge trouble at 71/5. After that, their skipper Sarfaraz led a superb fightback, notching up his second successive fifty. After a slow start, he upped the ante by hitting opposite number Shadab for three fours in the 12th over. But it was an over later when he was at his best, striking four consecutive sixes off the bowling of Iftikhar Ahmed. At one point in his innings, Sarfaraz was batting on 11 off 18 deliveries. Just 13 balls later, he would reach an excellent half-century which gave the Gladiators hope.
While the Gladiators fought back thanks to the above-mentioned knock by Sarfaraz during the middle overs, they weren't able to close their innings well, eventually ending with a total of 156/7 in their 20 overs. It was Ashraf once again who put United in control as he took the key wicket of Sarfaraz for 54. The right-arm pacer finished with exceptional bowing figures of 3/11 in his four overs.
In the final four overs of their innings, Quetta managed only one boundary, which came off the final delivery of the innings. They scored just 22 runs from 20 deliveries after Sarfaraz's dismissal.
While a target of 157 might not be a daunting ask in T20 cricket, Stirling looked in a hurry to get to the finishing line. He began with a six and a couple of fours in the first over and didn’t look back after that, reaching his fifty in just 21 deliveries. While this was the fastest half-century in PSL 2021 so far, it put United in complete control of this game.
At the other end, the in-form Alex Hales didn't get much of the strike, but when he did, he looked in fine touch. He couldn't kick on after getting a start again though as he was bowled by Zahid Mahmood for 23 off 13 deliveries.
After a rapid start, things slowed down slightly for United in the middle overs, but that was barely a worry. While there weren’t many positives for the Gladiators, leg-spinner Zahid did well, picking up two wickets for 29 runs in his four overs. The second of those wickets was that of Stirling, who played a sensational knock, scoring 56 from 33 deliveries in an innings which included eight fours and two sixes.
Playing in his first game of the season, 19-year-old Rohail Nazir impressed and ensured that the two-time champions remained on course for a comfortable victory, before he was dismissed for a 28-ball 34 by Dale Steyn.
While Mohammad Hasnain dismissed Shadab for 21 in the 17th over of the innings, the match result at the time was never in doubt as United were already on the verge of victory. The game ended in the same over as Asif Ali hit two boundaries which only accelerated the process. Asif was unbeaten on 16 as Islamabad eventually won the match with three overs to spare.