PSL 2021: Multan Sultans overcome Karachi Kings and the Abu Dhabi heat to stay in playoff hunt

Babar Azam's unbeaten 85 in vain as Karachi lose by 12 runs on a toasty, but generally manageable, evening at Zayed Cricket Stadium

Multan Sultans bowler Imran Tahir celebrates taking a wicket against Karachi Kings. Courtesy PCB
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Playing cricket in June in the UAE is rare enough. Starting at 5pm is something different altogether.

Fair to say, there was a sizeable slice of trepidation about the conditions the sides were going to face, ahead of the first afternoon match since the PSL resumed in Abu Dhabi.

Teams have spoken of plans to wear ice vests and fill up on coconut water, while leeway has been given for extra breaks. The players themselves might have been minded to move as little as possible, then go and sit in a fridge.

If the tactics revolved around conserving energy, then Multan Sultans' spinner Imran Tahir clearly did not get the memo.

When he took the wicket of Karachi Kings batsman Najibullah Zadran, which more or less settled the game in Multan's favour, he set off on the sort of lung-busting sprint around the ground in which he specialises.

Sure, his teammates were chuffed. This was a vital moment in a match that Multan needed to win in order to stay within reach of the playoff contenders.

But when Tahir went tearing off in celebration, most of them were happy to watch from a standing position, and shout their congratulations instead.

It makes sense that Tahir would feel comfortable in this climate. He has spent more time than most acclimatising.

The South Africa leg-spinner has been based in Dubai for much of this year. And, in between jetting off to the world's leading T20 leagues, he has often turned out in recreational club matches in the UAE.

No wonder he was immediately in sync for Multan once the PSL restarted.

He took two crucial wickets – those of Martin Guptill and the Afghan power-hitter Najibullah – and later affected the run out which saw the end of Chadwick Walton.

As it turned out, fears about extreme temperatures were unfounded. It was a toasty – but manageable – 36 degrees when Karachi’s captain Imad Wasim sent down the first ball, with a strong cross breeze coming across the ground from the coast.

On the other side of the boundary, players huddled closely together under parasols.

Play was briefly held up when the parasol of one of the cameramen was blown onto the playing area.

Admittedly, running between the wickets must have been tough. During a break after eight overs, Rilee Rossouw had a towel draped over him that had come straight from the ice bucket.

One player – Islamabad United’s Usman Khawaja – had suggested before the tournament that these conditions would mean batsmen would find going harder than bowlers.

And yet Multan found things just to their liking. Having been sent in to bat by Karachi, they looked comfortable in amassing 176 for five.

Rossouw earned the man of the match award for his quick-fire innings of 44, and his score was matched by Khushdil Shah, who was undefeated at the end of the innings

The defending champions made a tepid start to their reply, with Babar Azam looking uncharacteristically rusty on his return to the crease at the start.

Pakistan’s captain failed to score off his first nine balls, and was lucky to avoid being given out LBW on the last of those. He got moving from that point on, and eventually ended up not out on 85 at the close of the innings. But his side fell 12 short in their halting run-chase.

The win was just the second of this disrupted campaign for Multan, who topped the table last season, and might have won a first title had Covid not delayed the playoffs.

They have arrived in the capital with a raft of changes from the squad which started the tournament – including Mohammed Wasim, the aspiring UAE player who was benched for this encounter.

Success against Karachi put them within two points of fourth-placed Islamabad, meaning they remain in the hunt for a place in the knockout phase.