Azam Khan blazes fastest ILT20 half century to revive Desert Vipers’ play-off hopes

Pakistan wicketkeeper reaches landmark in just 18 balls to inspire win over holders Gulf Giants in Dubai

Azam Khan reached his 50 in just 18 balls to boost the Desert Vipers' ILT20 play-off hopes. Photo by CREIMAS / ILT20
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Maybe it was the lucky green and yellow shirt. Or perhaps the encouragement from the packed stands.

Whatever it was down to, Azam Khan found form at just the right time to breathe life into Desert Vipers’ DP World International League T20 hopes on Saturday.

The Pakistan wicketkeeper hit the fastest half-century in the competition’s brief history, as he reached the landmark in 18 balls.

It fuelled his side’s six-wicket win over Gulf Giants, the defending champions, a victory which improves their prospects of making the play-offs.

It came while his side, who started the day in last place, were wearing a specially minted green kit. The change from their usual red and black colours reflected the fact the franchise were attempting to raise awareness of environmental issues via a “sustainability match”.

Among their initiatives at this tournament, they use a team bus which partly uses biofuel created from waste cooking oil from local restaurants.

By happy coincidence, they are also the side with the largest quantity of Pakistani players in the tournament, and thus suit the green and yellow kit.

Shaheen Afridi has returned to Pakistan to get ready for the PSL, while Shadab Khan was not selected, and watched instead from the Royal Box.

Their remaining two Pakistani recruits were key to the win. Mohammed Amir took three wickets as the Giants were limited to 160 for seven, then Azam made light work of the run chase with his innings.

“For the Pakistani players, to be able to perform in such a great league is also good for their careers,” Azam said. “We are going to the PSL now and we will gain some confidence from the cricket we are playing here.”

Azam’s fireworks with the bat was particularly appreciated by the biggest crowd of the season so far.

All seats were filled in the public areas of the lower tier of Dubai International Stadium. In the second half of the first innings, new seating areas had to be made available in the top tier by removing branding.

In fact, the ground was nearly empty by the time victory was sealed, with Azam at the crease, via a wide by Blessing Muzurabani.

The crowd poured out because a strategic time out apparently needed to be taken with two runs required from 24 balls, and wisely they thought better of sticking around.

Despite the surreal ending, Azam said he had been buoyed by the encouraging attendance.

“I do find it inspiring because when the crowd are cheering you, you have to stay there and showcase your talent,” Azam said.

“I was there till the end and was able to finish the game for my team, so I was happy about that.

“I quite enjoyed it. I always have this belief that I can change the game at any moment. I managed that and was able to finish the game.”

Updated: February 04, 2024, 4:29 AM