Sharjah: Shahid Afridi, the hero of many a battle at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, came up with just the performance to get the unique T10 Cricket League off to an electrifying start on Thursday night.
Afridi pulled off a hat-trick to prove to the world that he is still a champion although he may have retired from international cricket and, in doing so, effortlessly lifted the profile of the newest and shortest version of the game.
A near-packed stadium lapped up the action, with fans cheering every shot and wicket-taking delivery.
When Afridi produced his hat-trick, he erased any doubts about the success of the new format with the crowd giving him a standing ovation.
Afridi foxed Rilee Rossouw and Dwayne Bravo before completing the hat-trick by taking the prize wicket of Maratha Arabians captain and swashbuckling former Indian batting star Virender Sehwag.
The very first match raised the excitement several notches when Kerala Kings, cheered on by drum-beating fans, scored an emphatic eight-wicket victory over Bengal Tigers led by Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmad.
Both matches were lessons to cricketers on how to play this format.
The Kerala-Bengal match proved that a superstar is not always needed to win a match when Ireland’s Paul Stirling cracked a breezy unbeaten 66 off 27 balls with 10 boundaries and three sixes to give Kerala a winning start.
Bengal received a huge blow just before the start of the tournament when six of their players selected through the draft pulled out due to personal reasons.
Additionally, after being put in to bat, Bengal failed to get off to the kind of blazing start they would ideally have wanted given the short format. Their batsmen gave the impression that retaining wickets mattered more and they eventually managed a mere 86 for 1 from their 10 overs. Hard-hitter Darren Sammy did not get a chance to bat, and David Miller, known as Killer Miller for his brisk knocks, only got to face nine balls.
Their opener Andre Fletcher scored an unbeaten 32, using up 24 balls, while his opening partner Johnson Charles scored even slower, taking 27 balls to score 33 runs.
Bengal still tried to make a fight of it but their South African pacer Marchant de Lange gave away 21 runs in the seventh over and it became immediately clear that one bad over in the T10 format can take the match away.
On the other hand, the second match was an example of how one notable over can win a T10 match, with Afridi stepping up for his hat-trick.
Despite Maratha’s opener Alex Hales cracking an unbeaten 57 off 26 balls with five boundaries and four sixes, their team failed to challenge the target.
Kerala Kings bt Bengal Tigers by 8 wickets. Bengal Tigers 86 for 1 in 10 overs (Andre Fletcher 32n.o, Johnson Charles 33) Kerala Kings 90 for 2 in 8 overs (Paul Stirling 66n.o) Man of the match: Paul Stirling.
Pakhtoons bt Maratha Arabians by eight wickets. Pakhtoons 121 for 4 in 10 overs (Fakhar Zaman 45n.o, Liam Dawson 44, Imad Wasim 2 for 20). Maratha Arabians 96 for 7 in 10 overs (Alex Hales 57n.o, Shahid Afridi 3 for 19, Mohammad Irfan 2 for 19, Sohail Khan 2 for 7) Man of the match: Shahid Afridi