Multan Sultans 142 for 5 (Masood 38, Shaheen Afridi 1-18) beat Lahore Qalandars 138 for 8 (Lynn 39, Tahir 2-21) by five wickets
New year, new PSL, new venue. Same old Lahore Qalandars. An unbalanced squad, curiously playing without a specialist spinner, began their fifth PSL campaign with a crushing five-wicket defeat at the hands of Multan Sultans. Shan Masood's side had the composure to see off an early storm from Qalandars' big hitting openers, fully cognizant that once Fakhar Zaman and Chris Lynn were removed, there was little meat on the bare bones the rest of the batting side comprised.
From 59 for 1 in 5.2 overs, Qalandars tumbled top 138 for 8 in their allotted 20, well below par in front of a Lahore crowd that was watching their home franchise for the very first time. They soon realised they hadn't been missing much when the bowlers failed to trouble Multan too much in the run chase, Shan Masood's composed 29-ball 38 anchoring his side towards the perfect in an edition where Multan brim with optimism.
Qalandars' ineptitude should not detract from the glimpses of brilliance that Multan showed in this game. The experienced spin duo of Imran Tahir and Shahid Afridi had combined figures of 8-0-45-2, while Moeen Ali chipped in with a couple of wickets in addition to a brief cameo. Sohail Tanvir and Mohammad Irfan were effective at the start and the death, while two wickets from an ever-improving Mohammad Ilyas make him one of the bowlers to watch as this PSL season takes shape.
Multan were less convincing in the chase than they might have liked, with unforced errors giving Qalandars a peek back into the game on a couple of occasions. Moeen's run out buoyed Qalandars, who were looking to Shaheen Afridi to provide them with an explosive start. His perfect yorker to castle James Vince was the ball of the day, but Rilee Rossouw did perfectly what Multan had bought him to do: guide the chase steadily and without dram, and even though Zeeshan Ashraf fell thanks to another run-out, the asking rate kept dipping. There was even time to dust off the old classic: a few lusty blows from Shahid Afridi who knocked off the winning runs.
With Fakhar and Lynn at the top of an order where there wasn't much big-hitting to follow, how the opening partnership pans out will be pivotal to Qalandars' chances. Today, it looked like that necessary gamble was paying off when the pair found their range early, with Sohail Tanvir spanked for 18 in his second over, and the 50-partnership brought up in the fifth.
And on came Moeen for the last powerplay over, Lynn poised, as if at the trapdoor like a dragon waiting to breathe fire. Moeen got singed first ball when a full toss was dispatched over long-on. But the next pull, he pulled his line back and took the pace off it. Lynn stepped back in his crease and tried to loft it over mid-off. His timing failed him, and Shan Masood took the catch. Two balls later, Zaman danced down the wicket and heaved Moeen into the onside. The ball nearly went up into orbit, but when it came down, it was still within the confines of the boundary, and Khushdil Shah at cow corner made no mistake with the catch. Multan were into Qalandars' middle order, and in truth, there wasn't much there to worry them.
Multan's two 40-year olds
Dane Vilas smashed a couple of boundaries off Shahid Afridi, but that aside, there was little looseness from him, and, bowling alongside Tahir, he ended his spell at just a shade over a run a ball.
Tahir, if it's possible, was even more effective. He was thrust in during the business end of the powerplay when Lynn was giving the Lahore crowd a taste of his immense power-hitting ability and found himself roughed up in that first over. But thereon in, he was tight, squeezing Qalandars for runs and forcing them into low-percentage shots. Mohammad Hafeez fell to him this way, before Dane Vilas, who looked Qalandars' best hope of a rearguard, dragging a flatter one onto his stumps. If anything, those figures of 4-0-21-2 were a little too harsh on him.
Lahore's beleaguered captain
It may sound like clutching at straws, but Qalandars may take some encouragement from their skipper Sohail Akhtar holding the innings together as wickets fell in clumps during the middle overs, serving as useful foil to Dane Vilas and Mohammad Hafeez, none of whom kicked on in the way Qalandarsneeded them to. It was up to Akhtar himself to provide the big finish, and he did indeed tonk Tanvir for a pair of sixes in the final over to give Qalandars something to bowl at.
Where the teams stand
Multan's convincing win takes them top of the table on net run rate, while Qalandars find themselves at the bottom.