Munro, Azam, Ashraf seal Islamabad United’s playoff spot

RAWALPINDI (Monitoring Desk): Islamabad United beat Quetta Gladiators by two wickets in a seesawing game to confirm qualification for the last four for the seventh time in eight seasons. Half-centuries from Mohammad Nawaz and Najibullah Zadran helped Gladiators recover from a horror start to post 179. In response, United blazed away in characteristic fashion, even if the resulting fall of wickets brought Gladiators back into the contest. But Azam Khan and Faheem Ashraf struck up a valuable partnership, with Ashraf finishing off the game with three balls to spare.
United put Gladiators in to bat, and immediately put them on the back foot. Fazalhaq Farooqi struck in each of his first two overs to remove Will Smeed and Yasir Khan, while a stunning boundary catch from Mubasir Khan got rid of Sarfaraz Ahmed. Iftikhar Ahmed fell to Ashraf soon after, and Gladiators were reduced to 17 for 4 in the sixth over.
Nawaz and Zadran led a recovery effort, putting together a 104-run partnership that lifted their side out of the doldrums. Perhaps learning from Lahore Qalandars, they refused to consolidate after losing early wickets, going after the bowling even as it made the loss of wickets more probable. They were rewarded for that intrepid approach, and within relatively little time, the run rate crept upwards. When Farooqi got rid of Nawaz, he had scored a half-century, and with four overs to go, Gladiators were set up for a big finish.
Enter Umar Akmal. Remember him? In a stunning display of pure power hitting, the former Pakistan batter clubbed five sixes in 14 balls to smash an unbeaten 43, meaning Gladiators put on 58 in their final four overs.
United went about that chase as you might expect. Even though Naseem Shah trapped Rahmanullah Gurbaz in front off the second ball, Colin Munro dazzled in the powerplay. 18 runs off the second over of the innings – bowled by Odean Smith – made his intentions plain. Naseem was treated with more respect as Munro showed restraint, but when Umaid Asif followed up with the fourth over, 18 more came off it. By the end of the seventh over, a staggering 96 runs had been scored, 63 off which came off Munro’s bat.
United wobbled in the passage of play that followed. Shadab Khan holed out to Iftikhar before Nawaz struck next ball to draw the curtain on the Munro show. Umaid cleaned up Mubasir as he heaved at one with little convictions, before Nawaz got one to skid on to Asif Ali to suddenly leave the two-time champions reeling.
United still needed 69 from nine overs and had just four wickets left. But just as Faheem and Azam had put on a vital rearguard stand earlier in the week, they rose to the occasion once more. Aware they needed to consolidate – anathema to United’s ostensible philosophy – it wasn’t until his 17th ball that Azam struck his first boundary. Ashraf, too, bided his time as they took the game to the final three overs, of which United needed 31.
Azam roared to life at this moment, pummelling Naveen-ul-Haq for a four and a six, before pulling Umaid for six more to bring the asking rate almost run a ball. He fell the next ball and Hasan Ali holed out soon after, leaving Ashraf needing nine in the final over. It took him just three balls as Smith missed his lengths, with the experienced United allrounder hitting three fours to take his side through, and leave Gladiators on the cusp of their fourth straight elimination.