3rd Feb, 2023
MI Emirates have officially sealed their place in the play-offs of the ILT20, with a game to spare, after a 18-run victory over the Abu Dhabi Knight Riders in their penultimate league stage game, played at the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium here on Friday.
Commenting on the clinical performance of the side, MI Emirates head coach Shane Bond said, “We sort of felt we’ll qualify as our run-rate was already high. There wasn’t too much pressure, we were pretty comfortable with where we were. The big one is taking a step forward to take one of the top two spots.”
Put in to bat, MI Emirates came out to bat with a different approach seen from the earlier games, as they preferred to stay calm and save their wickets till the 10th over of the innings before the ever dependable Muhammed Waseem (60 off 44 balls) broke the shackles, and in a way laid the platform for skipper Kieron Pollard (43 off 17 balls) to ensure a turbo-charged finish to the innings and eventually post a competitive 180/4.
The mighty Trinidadian right-hander consumed just six deliveries to get his eyes in before taking on Andre Russell for 26 runs off the 18th over of the innings, that included three fours and two sixes. With Nicholas Pooran (10) in company, Pollard knew he had the license to go all out and went after Sabir Ali for another six before the young UAE bowler got the better of Pollard, but by then the damage was mostly done. Pollard is now in the second spot among the highest run getters in the tournament with 337 runs.
But it was Waseem, who not only took full advantage of the three dropped chances, but set the tone with yet another classy half century that came off a mighty slog-sweep over square. Waseem, who had started his innings on a sedate note, changed gears after the 12th over of the innings, in which he slammed as many as four sixes and a boundary to step on the gas.
“We know what a destructive and fine player he (Waseem) is, we wanted him to get the runs at the back end even after the slow start. Our batting group has done a great job throughout the tournament,” the former Kiwi pacer said.
Bond is happy to see the four UAE boys (Muhammed Waseem, Zahoor Khan, Vriitya Aravind and Basil Hameed) in the MI Emirates squad making vital contributions throughout the competition, and raising their hands whenever the situation demanded.
“This is ILT20, and we have four very fine local players in the squad, and all four have got an opportunity to play which is pretty pleasing from MI Emirates’ perspective. It’s always nice to have your local player as one of your star performers and really leading from the front, that means a lot to us and we hope he (Waseem) continues to do that in the tournament,” Bond added.
Waseem, who vaulted to the fourth spot among the highest run-getters with 303 runs, found the perfect partner in Ireland’s Lorcan Tucker, slamming a 23-ball 33, inclusive of three fours and a six, and more importantly forged a 87-run second wicket partnership that propelled the MI Emirates to 122 off 14 overs.
Playing his second match of the ILT20, the Irish wicketkeeper-batter provided the much needed impetus to the MI Emirates innings once Andre Fletcher’s (22 off 25 balls) departed following a decent 35-run opening start.
In response, Dwayne Bravo starred for the MI Emirates with three wickets after Trent Boult’s started off with a wicket maiden and jolted the Abu Dhabi Knight Riders with the scalp of opener Paul Sterling for a duck and the seasoned leg-spinner Imran Tahir got Brandon King (20) walking off, with the scoreboard reading 25/2.
And by the time, things started settling for the batting side, Tahir inflicted further damage by trapping Charith Asalanka (14) in front. Zahoor Khan then got the prized scalps of Andre Russell (42) and Connor Esterhuizen (17) to bury their hopes of a turnaround, even as his UAE teammate Fazalhaq Farooqi completed the rest of the formalities to seal MI Emirates berth in the playoffs.
“I hope from here on we can have a settled line-up and remain injury-free and we can challenge for the trophy,” an optimistic Bond commented.