Quetta Gladiators 171 for 7 (Azam Khan 59, Cutting 22*, Musa 3-30) beat Islamabad United 168 (Malan 64, Hasnain 4-25, Cutting 3-31)) by 3 wickets
The tournament might have begun with a decidedly underwhelming opening ceremony, but that isn’t a term you’d use for the opening match. The two most successful sides in the PSL showed a packed Karachi crowd exactly why they were on top, with a game that ebbed and flowed, and was finally settled with a Ben Cutting six over long-off to seal a win for the defending champions. Azam Khan had set up the win with a scintillating 33-ball 59, while Mohammad Hasnain put in a Man-of-the-Match performance, his figures of 4-0-25-4 ensuring Islamabad United wouldn’t even bat their full 20 overs.
Islamabad were bowled out for 168, a below-par total given how the first half of their innings unfolded, after Colin Munro’s dismissal off the first ball. The template they execute so successfully was working like a dream, with the overseas picks doing their job expertly. Dawid Malan steered the innings with a half-century that propelled Islamabad to the 100-mark in the 11th over, and he was ably assisted by Luke Ronchi, who played the kind of cameo the PSL is so familiar with. But once Ben Cutting came into the attack and began varying the pace intelligently, Islamabad saw the runs dry up and wickets ensued.
Cutting would account for Malan, who saw that he needed to take on even more of the scoring burden, and when the batsman holed out, the wheels fully came off. For the rest of the overs, Islamabad flailed in the face of a bowling attack that had their measure by now, and would wind up their innings five balls short.
Islamabad still made a game of it when Muhammad Musa, brilliant at the start, removed Jason Roy in the first over, and they nailed the Powerplay with Shane Watson and Ahmed Shehzad also back in the hut. But Azam’s brilliance wrested the game back in favour of the defending champions. A supporting knock from Mohammad Nawaz took them close enough to the target that they could afford a late wobble and Quetta were also helped by some late generosity from Musa.
For all that had gone against Islamabad, they looked the likelier team in the final four overs. The Azam hurricane had been withstood, Nawaz was gone, with with four overs to go, Quetta still needed 37 with their last recognised pair of Cutting and Sohail Khan at the crease. But Musa, so brilliant he didn’t concede a run in his first nine balls and dismissed Roy, ended up undoing most of that good work with a horror 18th over. One in the slot to Ben Cutting went the distance, before he found a ball slipping out of his hands, turning into a beamer that the keeper failed to prevent from reaching the boundary. Sohail Khan would punish the free hit with another six. The first four balls of that over yielded 19 runs, and Islamabad’s challenge would end with a whimper.
Star of the day
There was cynicism about his place in the side because he was the head coach’s son. There was ambiguity about whether he was fit due to his rather rotund frame. The Karachi crowd shouted “parchi” at him when he walked out to bat, an unflattering reference to someone who is perceived not to have earned their place on merit. But Azam Khan was the reason Quetta opened their title defence with a victory. He looked a shade uncertain when he came on, but it would last all of four deliveries. From the moment he pulled the fifth to midwicket, Azam was on his way to an unstoppable half-century.
There was no bowler he didn’t spare, but he took a particular liking to the opposition captain Shadab Khan, whom he carted for a six and two fours in the 15th over to bring Quetta in line with an asking rate that had begun to head northward. He combined easy power with surprisingly nifty running between the wickets alongside Sarfaraz Ahmed, and dissipated the pressure he would have felt at the start of his innings, finding a bit of breathing room.
The big miss
It hasn’t been a happy start for Shadab as captain. Islamabad would have hoped the added responsibility would see him return to the levels of form witnessed from the legspinner in his first two seasons, but that didn’t happen today. Azam was responsible for much of the pounding Shadab took, smashing him for 31 runs in the 13 balls he faced. Even after Azam had been dismissed and Shadab brought himself on for the final over, things wouldn’t turn in his favour, with Cutting’s six the final ignominy on a forgettable day that saw him leak 46 in 3.3 wicketless overs.
Where the teams stand
Quetta go to the top of the table, becoming the first side to register points at this year’s PSL, while Islamabad United will look for their opening points against Multan Sultans on Saturday.