Asia Lions roared past India Maharajas with a clinical all-round performance in the Legends League Cricket (LLC) Masters eliminator held at the Asian Town Cricket Stadium in Doha on Saturday, avenging their ten-wicket defeat to their opponents in their last match to register an emphatic 85-run victory.
Batting first, and posting a whopping total of 191 for 5 in 20 overs, Asia Lions bowled out India Maharajas for a paltry 106 runs in 16.4 overs. India Maharajas supporters had nothing to cheer except for their skipper Gautam Gambhir's elegant knock of 32.
The architects of Asia Lions' victory were opener Upul Tharanga, who cracked 50 off 31 balls with seven boundaries and a six, and his partner Tillakaratne Dilshan, who scored a run-a-ball 27 runs. Together they put on an 83 runs partnership in 8.5 overs to set the base for a huge total. The Asia Lions will meet the World Giants in the title clash on Monday, March 20.
Asia Lions won the toss and elected to bat. Openers Tharanga and Dilshan began slowly but they grew in strength with every over. Except for a blemish with the second ball from Irfan Pathan, which resulted in five wides when wicketkeeper Robin Uthappa also failed to collect, all other deliveries from him were spot on. Ashok Dinda too bowled tight giving away just five runs. The first aggressive shot came from Tharanga, who lifted Pathan's fourth delivery of the third over for a straight six and the next ball for a boundary to long-off.
Tharanga hit Yusuf Pathan, who was introduced for the fourth over, for two consecutive boundaries off the first two balls through extra cover. He also hit the fourth ball for another boundary to deep cover and the last ball for yet another boundary past mid-on to take 18 runs off that over.
What followed was a fine battle to dominate the bowling. Stuart Binny replaced the costly Yusuf Pathan, and Dilshan, who was playing second fiddle to Tharanga, hit his first boundary through an elegant flick. The opening pair used the powerplay to score 58 runs with Tharanga in full flow scoring 40 of those runs and Dilshan on 10.
Harbhajan Singh, who bowled the eighth over gave away 12 runs. Tharanga reached his half-century off 30 balls and got out to the next ball from Pragyan Ojha, brilliantly caught by Mohammad Kaif at extra cover. The agile Kaif dived full length and pulled off a one-handed catch to prove that he stands tall even now as one of India's finest fielders.
Next man Mohammad Hafeez punished Harbhajan for two boundaries off the first and third deliveries - the first was a cut shot to the third man and the second a pull to deep mid-wicket. At the halfway mark, Asia Lions were 94 for 1.
Ojha struck again in the 11th over to have Dilshan drive straight into the hands of Suresh Raina at long-off for 27. Asghar Afghan hit the first ball he faced from Ojha for a straight six over long-off. Hafeez also hit Harbhajan's last ball of the 12th over too for a six by slog sweeping over a deep square leg. He also hit Ojha's last ball of the 11th over for a straight six.
Pravin Tambe, who was introduced as an impact player in place of Harbhajan Singh, bowled the 14th over. He gave away just four runs. Irfan Pathan was re-introduced for the 15th over and he bowled a tighter over yielding just three runs. In the 16th over, though Hafeez slog-swept the first ball from Tambe for a six, he fell to the third ball to yet another brilliant catch from Kaif for 38. Running to his left towards long-off, Kaif produced another diving catch to end Hafeez's knock that came off 24 balls with two fours and three sixes.
Thisara Perera accelerated the run flow, hitting Irfan Pathan for a mighty six-over long-on off the fourth ball of the 17th over to steer Asia Lions past the 150-run mark. Perera also hit Binny over long-on for a six in the 18th over. Asghar then hit Dinda for a six-over mid-wicket in the 19th over. The first ball of the last over from Binny was hit by Perera for a six over long-on into the crowd, but he fell to the next ball giving Kaif his third catch at long-on for 24. Abdul Razzaq also fell pulling Binny to Yusuf Pathan for 2. In the last five overs, Asia Lions scored 58 runs losing three wickets for a total, nine runs short of the 200-run mark.
India Maharajas began their chase with Gambhir striking freely. He hit Sohail Tanvir's third and last delivery of the first over for boundaries - the first through the covers and the next one also through the covers with exquisite timing. It was a treat to watch Gambhir pick two more boundaries off Abdur Razzak. He hit the second delivery for a boundary to mid-wicket and on the fourth, he leaned back and cut with elegance to the boundary.
Uthappa joined the big-hitting from the fourth over by Razzak, scoring two consecutive boundaries. Hafeez provided the breakthrough with the second ball of the fourth over by having Gambhir caught by Misbah Ul Haq at extra cover for 32. His 17-ball knock had seven boundaries. Uthappa on 15 got run out after being sent back by Kaif. At the end of the powerplay, India Maharajas were 60 for 2.
Runs began to dip with Hafeez giving away just four runs in the seventh over and Shahid Afridi picking the wicket of Kaif, caught by Perera at long-off for 14 and giving away just two runs in that over.
Perera took another catch at long-on to remove Yusuf Pathan, who lasted only ten balls to score nine runs before falling to Mohammad Hafeez. In the 13th over, when Irfan Pathan got bowled for 3 off Dilshan, half the India Maharajas batsmen were back in the dug-out for 91 in 12.4 overs.
In the 15th over Tanvir struck with successive deliveries. First, he removed Suresh Raina, clean bowled for 18, and then clean bowled Stuart Binny to take a firm grip on the match. Razzak also clean-bowled Ashok Dinda for 2 and had Manvinder Bisla stumped by wicketkeeper Tharanga for 8 in the 16th over. Udana clean-bowled Tambe for a duck in the next over to book his team's place in the final.
Brief scores: Asia Lions 191/5 (Upul Tharanga 50, Mohammad Hafeez 38, Pragyan Ojha 2/26) won against India Maharajas 106 in 16.4 overs (Gautam Gambhir 32, Suresh Raina 18, Mohammad Hafeez 2 for 21)
Player of the Match: Upul Tharanga. (ANI)