It wasn’t until Monday night that perhaps the biggest name at this year’s PSL made his season debut, but Jason Roy made it worth the wait. In an all-time T20 classic, the England opener blazed 116 off 57 balls in what was virtually a one-man chase of a target in excess of 200. By the time he had fallen, the Quetta Gladiators needed just 38 in 26 balls against Lahore Qalandars.
James Vince and Mohammad Nawaz knocked those off with three balls to spare, and a game that had looked like Lahore Qalandars’ at the halfway mark when they set 204 was wrenched out of their hands.
Roy made clear he meant business immediately and, in pursuit of an enormous target, that was precisely what the Gladiators needed. The cleanliness of the ball-striking was sensational, and the dazzling array of strokes he unleashed breathtaking. It might have been one of those YouTube compilations that try and capture a player in their most flattering light, but in this case, all of those strokes were coming in the same innings. A six and two fours off Shaheen Afridi in the first over signalled his intentions, and seven boundaries and three sixes off just his first 19 balls helped bring up a 20-ball half-century inside four overs. Ahsan Ali at the other end, with the best seat in the house, had faced just two balls till then, for one run.
And Roy kept going. Even Rashid Khan, brought on to stem the bleeding, wasn’t spared, swept for six off his third delivery. He barely noticed when Ahsan Ali fell, or indeed that James Vince was at the other end, for Roy was batting at a level no one else had access to. Zaman Khan, Lahore hero the other night, was the whipping boy when Roy brought up his hundred with two devastating pick-ups over cow corner, the milestone coming in just 49 balls.
After he finally fell scooping one to short-fine leg off David Weise, the Qalandars sniffed a comeback, but simply too much damage had been done to roll back. Mohammad Nawaz and Vince picked up the odd boundary whenever they needed one, and despite a tight 18th over by Afridi, the Gladiators had margin for error. A classy drive over extra cover for six from Nawaz brought up the remarkable win and, predictably, it was Roy everyone went to congratulate first.
All of that utterly overshadowed a first innings where the Qalandars managed a superb rearguard after a scratchy first half to post 204. Fakhar Zaman held the innings together up front without quite breaking away like he has the tendency to, but much of the top five weren’t able to have anywhere near the same impact. Naseem Shah, Luke Wood and Ghulam Mudassar kept the batters on a leash, and when Phil Salt fell, the Qalandars were 124 for 5 with just 5.3 overs left.
A bit of acceleration from Fakhar brought up a 45-ball 70, but the real fireworks for his side would come in the form of a sixth-wicket stand between Wiese and Harry Brook. The last 20 balls went for 55 runs, 24 of them in one devastating Luke Wood 19th over, setting the Qalandars up for a total they hadn’t looked like getting near for much of the innings.
At that stage it appeared as if the trend of sides defending scores was destined to continue, and against most sides it might well have done. But on a humid Karachi night lit up by an Englishman’s brilliance, that streak would come to an end in sizzling style.