RAWALPINDI (Monitoring Desk): It all descended into a fog of boundaries, and nothing seemed to make sense. The upshot of 483 runs, 54 fours and 21 sixes was that Quetta Gladiators move one step closer to mounting an astonishing comeback and booking a place in the last four for the first time since 2019.
Babar Azam’s eighth T20 century saw Peshawar Zalmi post their highest score, setting Gladiators 241 to win. But Jason Roy set to the task like a man possessed, blitzing an unbeaten 145 off 63 balls to ultimately canter to victory with ten balls to spare. It broke Colin Ingram’s record for the highest individual score in PSL history, and the third-highest T20 chase of all time. More importantly, it keeps Gladiators alive in the PSL this season, one win away from likely qualification.
Gladiators looked punch-drunk when the first innings ended after a haphazard bowling and fielding performance, combined with a masterclass from Babar and Saim Ayub looked to have broken their spirits. But they came out having a go on a surface not even the most accomplished power-hitters could have dreamt of preparing, and immediately got off to a flyer. Martin Guptill’s brief cameo – 21 off eight – set the tone, but Roy was only just getting warmed up.
Fresh off a stint with his national side in Bangladesh, he picked up in Rawalpindi where he’d left off in Mirpur. A blow-by-blow account of the frenzy wouldn’t quite do justice to the fluid, liquid nature of the innings, one six morphing into the next, one over blending into the other. For Zalmi’s bowlers, it began to look like a fever dream as one big over followed another, and the bowlers took turns to front up and cop a hiding. Each of the first eight overs saw at least two boundaries scored, and by this time, Gladiators had got themselves to 118 for one, having knocked off half the target with 12 overs still to spare.
There were supporting acts from the other end, but Roy demanded attention, and gobbled up all of it. Will Smeed and Mohammad Hafeez were adept in their own right, denying Zalmi breathing room at the other end as the asking rate steadily came down. After a pair of relatively quiet overs around the halfway mark, any hopes Zalmi harboured of making inroads were blown away around the 16th over, when six successive balls straddling two overs went for boundaries, effectively sealing Zalmi’s fate. Mohammed Hafeez, who has battled personal trauma over the last 24 hours, was magnificently composed, his 18-ball 41 one of the finest T20 cameos of this season.
But ultimately, it had to be Roy who would have the last laugh. It was a caressed drive over mid-off that went all the way for the final six of a manic game that overwhelmed a dazed Zalmi, meaning their route through to the playoffs suddenly leaves them with no margin for error.
All of that will ultimately swallow up what was a phenomenal batting performance from Zalmi themselves, particularly their openers. After Ayub was dropped by Naseem Shah early off Hasnain, the two blasted their way through the powerplay, amassing 67 in six overs. But they carried on as if the fielding restrictions hadn’t been eased, and Gladiators had no response to the onslaught coming their way.
By the 10th over, the 100-partnership had been reached, and both players had scored half-centuries. But on the day, Babar wasn’t simply accumulating, he was matching Ayub’s strike rate toe-to-toe. They brought up only the second 150-run stand in PSL history – Babar was involved in the first one, too, with Sharjeel Khan at Karachi Kings – and when Ayub fell for a 34-ball 74, Zalmi had pushed past 160.
There was a slight deceleration as Babar approached three figures, but once he got there, he let out a yelp of delight. The shackles were off the innings once more, against a Gladiators side who were dropping catches and committing misfields like they were going out of style. Thirty-three runs came off the last two overs as Zalmi piled on the misery, and by the halfway stage, they looked to have sealed their spot in the last four, as well as Gladiators’ fate.
Roy, and a majestic Gladiators, had other ideas.