Marking his return as a replacement, Will Smeed made instant impact. But his heroic 99 couldn’t get Quetta Gladiators past the line.
Instead, it was Peshawar Zalmi who recorded a 24-run victory at the Gaddafi Stadium on Tuesday night to move two points clear of the Gladiators in the HBL Pakistan Super League standings — leapfrogging their opponents into the final playoff spot — after Smeed had threatened to take the game away from them.
Despite wickets tumbling around him, it seemed as if Smeed, who replaced Ben Duckett, would singlehandedly guide the Gladiators to victory. But once he chopped on Salman Irshad’s low full toss onto his stumps with 32 more to get off 13 deliveries, it was curtains for Sarfraz Ahmed’s men as they finished at 161-8 in their pursuit of 186 runs.
Leg-spinner Usman Qadir got three wickets for Zalmi, for whom Shoaib Malik (58) and Hussain Talat (51) drafted valuable half-centuries.
It, however, was a quickfire 36 by Ben Cutting which proved invaulable for them as they finished on 185.
The Gladiators were tottering at 2-29 after Jason Roy chased a wide leg-break from Liam Livingstone but could only get the toe end of his bat to give a simple catch to Zalmi captain Wahab Riaz before Usman’s googly undid James Vince’s stumps.
Smeed tried to repair the damage with Sarfraz (25) in a stand of 53 but Hussain had the Gladiators captain caught at deep midwicket by Livingstone.
It was all Smeed after that as no other Gladiators batters could get going.
Usman had spelled the end for them when he had Iftikhar Ahmed (10) caught behind before getting Umar Akmal stumped for 1.
But Smeed, who had hit 97 in Gladiators’ season-opening win against Zalmi and played the first three matches of their campaign, was still standing tall and he continued to smash Zalmi bowlers, being especially severe on Wahab.
Gladiators required 46 off the last three overs and Smeed had set it up for a final flourish having hit Salman for two boundaries in the 18th over, only to be undone on the last ball of that over.
Earlier, Naseem Shah rocked Zalmi in the second over, trapping Hazratullah Zazai lbw on the first delivery before knocking back Livingstone’s middle stump.
But Mohammad Haris (29) and Malik stitched up a 52-run partnership before Ghulam Mudassar accounted for the former, taking a catch back off his own bowling on the second attempt while running backwards.
That marked the start of an 83-run partnership between Malik and Hussain which in the end gave Cutting the platform to change gears.
Malik hit eight fours in his 41-ball knock and departed in an attempt to accelerate the scoring when he mistimed a slower delivery from Khurram Shahzad to Umar.
Sherfane Rutherford went for a duck, with the addition of just one run to the scoreboard, but that didn’t stop Cutting from cutting loose.
In his 14-ball 36, Cutting made 33 off nine Sohail Tanvir deliveries — including four sixes in the penultimate over — as a mini-battle between the two which saw them square up in the heat of the moment.
Having hit a four of the final delivery of the 17th over by Tanvir, Cutting welcomed him with three consecutive sixes at the start of the 19th: the first down the ground, the second over deep midwicket and the third over extra cover.
There was a brief respite for Tanvir when Cutting got just two off the fourth delivery but he then smoked the veteran pacer for another six over deep mid-wicket on the fifth.
Tanvir though would complete Cutting’s dismissal, taking a catch off the first delivery of the final over bowled by Naseem.
The impressive Naseem gave away just three runs in that over, and also ended up getting his fourth wicket of the innings when Hussain was caught by Khurram.
Hussain hit six fours and a six in his innings and then tilted the game in his side’s favour with the ball when he bagged Sarfraz, only for Smeed to bring Gladiators close.