Karachi Kings 176 for 5 (Azam 54, Guptill 43, Rashid 2-25) beat Lahore Qalandars 169 for 7 (Hafeez 36, David 34, Ahmad 2-19) by seven runs
There was almost a repeat of Lahore Qalandars' stunning win over Karachi Kings earlier this season, but this time, the Kings held on - just, keeping their playoff hopes alive with a 7-run win over their biggest rivals.
That was in large part to a sensational bowling effort, spearheaded by Afghanistan teenager Noor Ahmad, whose figures of 4-0-19-2 derailed Lahore's chase at a time when the game hung in the balance. That didn't mean the game was over, though, with an astonishing onslaught from Tim David and James Faulkner at the end briefly taking the Qalandars to the brink of victory. But when they holed out, the Kings established control again, and despite a brief scare in the final over from Rashid Khan, the Kings finally got themselves into a situation even they couldn't fluff up.
The Kings had won the toss and opted to bat, perhaps buoyed by the way the earlier game panned out, where Islamabad United racked up 247 in the first innings. The innings began somewhat unsteadily and stuttered throughout, with the Kings never quite able to pick up the pace when required, but crucially, never decelerating either. Qalandars were especially profligate in the field, dropping Babar Azam no fewer than three times, and even if Kings' star batter wasn't close to his best, his 44-ball 54 helped build a platform that took his side to 176. Martin Guptill at the other end was more free-flowing, and the two combined for an 88-run partnership that ensured Kings would not have to worry about wickets as they chased a final flourish.
Lahore began the chase breezily, Fakhar Zaman depositing a couple of sixes off Imad Wasim in the first over, but the wheels soon came off. Mohammad Ilyas got rid of Sohail Akhtar early before Noor began to strangle the batters. The asking rate had ballooned past 16 when he was done with his spell, but lapses of concentration with the ball allowed David and Faulkner to blaze their way to a 24-ball partnership that added 58 runs and left Qalandars needing 27 off two. However, Abbas Afridi had David hole out to long-off, and Qalandars finally had the fight knocked out of them.
Noor's teenage dream
It's impossible not to be left awestruck by the magnitude of Noor Ahmad's talent, embodied as it in within a slight, unassuming 16-year old boy's frame. When he was brought on in the seventh over, Qalandars were behind in the game, but it was the Afghan teenager who blew them out of the water. He toyed with Mohammad Hafeez - a man who made his debut before Noor was born - in the first over, keeping him honest with a quirky, unplayable mix of googlies, flippers and conventional left-arm legspin. But it wasn't until the end of his third over that the rewards for his skill began to show up in the wickets column. Ben Dunk, who had been beaten by prodigious turn off the previous ball, was taken at first slip by Azam as he looked to play with the turn.
The cherry on top came off the last ball of his spell, though, when Hafeez was finally dealt the knockout punch. Hafeez tried to drive him inside out over cover, but the this particular delivery had been pushed through, and Hafeez struggled to get height on it. It would go straight to Imad Wasim at extra cover, and Noor had his second, conceding just 19 in his spell.
Azam's charmed innings
It'll be a while before Azam can complain about fortune not favouring him. After he was perhaps a shade unlucky against Peshawar Zalmi to be deemed lbw when the ball might have missed leg stump, the cricket gods made it up to him, and then quite a bit more. It was only the second over when Dunk grassed an outside edge off Azam's bat, but lady luck was only just getting to work at that point. He survived an lbw shout from Faulkner by about the breadth of a hair in the fourth over, struggling to quite get his rhythm going.
Not that he wouldn't get further chances. Haris Rauf rushed onto him with a sharp bouncer he skied towards midwicket, where substitute fielder Zaid Alam made a mess of a routine high catch. In the 9th over, he was stranded in the middle of the crease after a mix-up with Guptill, only for Rashid to scupper the run-out chance. Rauf soon turned from aggrieved bowler to the man responsible for reprieving him yet again, putting down an absolute sitter at third man off Ahmed Daniyal's bowling. Daniyal's suffering wasn't over, though as Rashid allowed Babar another life by putting him down at point.
It almost seemed as if the Qalandars had forgotten just because he was from Lahore didn't mean he was on their side. Hafeez finally put paid to the scratchiest of innings from Pakistan's premier batter, holding onto one at point as Azam finally fell for a forgettable 44-ball 54.
The Karachi squeeze
A stodgy batting effort from the Kings was followed up by a wayward start with the ball, and for the first three over of the Qalandars chase, elimination beckoned. Thirty-four runs were plundered off the first three overs, with Wasim, Mohammad Amir, and Ilyas all taking a pounding. But Amir's second over proved a momentum shifter, mixing up changes of pace with a couple of yorkers to put the brakes on. Ilyas carried the momentum from there, a wicket maiden accounting for Akhtar, in addition to putting Qalandars on the back foot. Noor did much of the rest through the middle overs, but without arresting a seemingly irresistible Qalandars top order, the task for the 16-year old would have proved significantly more complicated.
Where they stand
Karachi Kings move up to eight points, and are behind fourth-placed Multan Sultans on net run rate. Lahore Qalandars remain stuck on ten points after their third defeat in a row, but maintain their hold on third place for now.