In a nutshell
A top-heavy batting performance from Lahore Qalandars fought off Kumar Sangakkara in his best form since international retirement to seal a seven-run win. In an entertaining contest at the Sharjah Stadium, Brendon McCullum’s men struggled to deliver a knockout blow to their Karachi rivals, meaning the win looked narrower than it actually was. Karachi’s chase of 180 looked an uphill battle from the very start, with the beleaguered Chris Gayle holing out to long off in the second over off the bowling of fellow West Indian Sunil Narine. Karachi’s challenge, in truth, lasted all of one 101-run partnership between Sangakarra and Shoaib Malik. When the pair fell within five balls of each other, the chase swiftly faded.
Lahore’s T20 superstar McCullum’s lean run also continued, with the captain dragging a straight delivery on for a second successive duck, but the Qalandars demonstrated that the horror innings against Peshawar had not dissuaded them from going for their shots. Fakhar Zaman and Jason Roy shrugged off their captain’s departure to plunder 57 runs by the sixth over. Zaman barely noticed Roy’s dismissal, or indeed the end of the Powerplay, as he and Umar Akmal continued to swing from the hip. Karachi did not help themselves, dropping a pair of fairly routine catches that would have sent the pair packing earlier. By the end of the 13th over, Lahore were 125-4, and looked set for 200, and while they didn’t quite manage that, the 179 they did manage was too good in the end anyway.
Where the match was won
A slow start is often costly in any T20 contest, but chasing 180, it is almost decisive. Gayle looked a tortured shell of his usual self for all of his seven-ball stay at the crease, and Babar Azam played a lazy shot to gift third man an easy catch, pushing his side into a corner. Sangakarra began brightly, his timing as well as placement his vintage majestic self, but with Shoaib Malik also struggling early on, the Kings only mustered 60 runs in the first 9 overs. The innings really only burst into life off the back of a poor tenth over from Bilawal Bhatti, and 53 runs came off the next four overs. But the slow start had meant Karachi’s asking rate never really came down to a point when the pressure was off, and Sangakarra ultimately fell playing the high-risk cricket that was his side’s only option owing to their early sluggishness.
The men that won it
Narine, T20’s bowling equivalent of McCullum, has lived up to his billing all tournament. He was at his wily, unplayable best today, turning the ball sharply off the Sharjah surface with no batsman seeming to pick him up properly. It appeared as long as Lahore had him to turn to, they were ahead in the game. It helped, of course, that the two wickets he took were those of the explosive Gayle and Kieron Pollard, the latter’s cluelessness as he played all around an offspinner epitomising the lethal mystery Narine continues to carry in his arsenal.
There was a particularly stark difference in the way both sides went about their fielding today. While Lahore looked sharp and alert under the stewardship of McCullum, taking their catches and hitting the stumps regularly, Karachi were sloppy. Zaman and Akmal had comfortable chances put down – the former, unhelpfully, by skipper Sangakarra – and Karachi regularly struggled to stop ones turning into twos. For a side that looks like it is threatened by being cut off from the other franchises in the race to the next round, they could ill-afford such untidiness, and in what turned out to be a seven-run loss, it might just have cost them dear.
The moment of the match
The abiding memory of this game will undoubtedly be the century stand between Karachi’s veterans Malik and Sangakarra, boasting a combined age of 74. Sangakarra’s lofted cover drive, in particular, is a shot worth the clichéd admission fee on its own. On consecutive deliveries off the unfortunate Yasir Shah in the thirteenth over, he showcased both his finesse and destructive power, timing the first over extra cover for four. Yasir went straighter next time, but was still brave enough to flight the ball generously. Fortune didn’t favour him, with the former Sri Lankan wicketkeeper slog-sweeping him – still gracefully, somehow – onto the Sharjah roof. It might not have been decisive, but it was certainly delightful.
Where they stand
Lahore’s up-and-down season continues, with McCullum’s men managing two wins and two losses. They have four points, and sit fourth in the table on net run rate. Karachi are yet to manage a win in their three games and, like much of their cricket so far, remain pointless.