Misbah-ul-Haq's spunk and bloody-mindedness finally found some reward as Faisalabad Wolves signed out of the qualifying stage of the Champions League Twenty20 2013 with a ten-run win over Kandurata Maroons at PCA Stadium in Mohali on Friday (September 20) evening. (Wolves vs Maroons, as it happened)
In a match of already eliminated teams fighting only for pride, Faisalabad turned in their first competitive performance of the tournament, scrapping hard to edge out a star-studded Kandurata outfit in a tense finish. (Scorecard/Scorecentre)
Misbah, the Faisalabad skipper, made a spectacular unbeaten 93 off just 60 deliveries, an innings of typically extravagant ball-striking, to single-handedly steer his team to 146 for 6 after being put in by Lahiru Thirimanne. He then marshalled his bowling resources admirably despite a rare bad day in office for Saeed Ajmal.
Ajmal went for 33 in his four overs but Faisalabad found their heroes in Ehsan Adil, the 20-year-old paceman, and Imran Khalid, the left-arm spinner who accounted for both Kumar Sangakkara and Chamara Silva. Kandurata were forced to settle for 136 for 7 to exit the qualifying stage with three defeats in as many matches.
Misbah followed up on scores of 46 and 56 not out in the two previous games with another fantastic knock, accelerating dramatically towards the end in making 43 from the last 19 deliveries he faced to take his tally for the tournament to 195, and giving his bowlers something to bowl with.
Kandurata never found any momentum at the top, losing the promoted Thilina Kandamby in the second over to Asad Ali and being forced to labour for runs against a Faisalabad attack that showed far greater discipline than at any previous stage in the tournament.
Sangakkara rode his luck to top-score with a chancy 44 - he was dropped on 17, again on 36 - but when he departed tonking Khalid down deep midwicket's throat, Kandurata found themselves facing a mountain to climb, needing 64 for victory in 35 deliveries. It was a task that proved just beyond them despite late pyrotechnics from Milinda Siriwardana, playing his first game of the tournament.
And to think that Misbah wasn't anywhere near his fluent best at the start of his essay. The usual impeccable timing was conspicuously absent, and he should have been dismissed for one when he lashed out at Siriwardana's left-arm spin and put up what should have been a regulation catch at long off. Upul Tharanga made a hash of it, not just spilling the chance but also tipping the ball over the boundary rope for the first of Misbah's five sixes. Taking his cue from that let-off, Misbah quietly played himself in, aware that his team could ill afford to lose him when the top three were already in the hut by the fifth over with only 22 on the board.
Kandurata had begun brilliantly through Nuwan Kulasekara and Dilhara Lokuhettige as Faisalabad's batsmen continued to disappoint. Khurram Shehzad was just about beginning to offer his captain some meaningful support when he went back to Ajantha Mendis and was trapped palpably in front, leaving Faisalabad reeling at 56 for 4 midway through the tenth over.
What Misbah needed was for someone to stay with him - not necessarily match him in scoring but someone who could give him company and the confidence to go about his business. Mohammad Salman, the wicketkeeper, offered him that support, content mainly to rotate the strike and scuttle to the non-striker's end and leave his captain to do the bulk of the scoring.
Which, of course, Misbah did. He took a special liking to Suraj Randiv's offspin, which went for 30 in two overs, including 19 in the 16th over, which was when the innings turned on his head. Faisalabad had blundered to 83 for 4 after 15 overs, Misbah on an increasingly fluid 50 in 41, when Randiv returned for his second over. Six deliveries later, the tables had been comprehensively turned as Misbah clattered him over straight long off and then smashed successive fours on the leg-side to begin the final assault.
Misbah called all the shots in the fifth-wicket stand of 74 with Salman, in all hammering six fours and five sixes - he scored all 13 of Faisalabad's sixes in the competition - to push his team towards respectability. The last five overs leaked 57 and the last ten were worth 88. And though there was no fairytale century for the captain, he sure wasn't complaining.