Kerala Kings won the first match of the T10 League against the Bengal Tigers, but the opening night of the new tournament belonged to Pakhtoons’Shahid Afridi. He took a hat-trick with the first three balls he bowled in the format as his franchise beat a Maratha Arabians side captained by Virender Sehwag by 25 runs.
Sehwag was the third victim of Afridi’s hat-trick, trapped in front by an in-dipping slider. Two balls earlier, Rilee Rossouw had holed out to Afridi’s first ball, caught by a fine diving catch at long on by Najibullah Zadran. Dwayne Bravo was then trapped lbw before Sehwag fell in similar fashion.
The format might be a new one, but the sensation felt similar. And has so often been the case over the past two decades, Afridi’s heroics delighted a sizable crowd in Sharjah.
Around 11,000 of the 14,500 seats at Sharjah Cricket Stadium were filled over the course of the night. Somehow, despite the newness of the event and the lack of official merchandise stalls in the vicinity, thousands arrived wearing yellow shirts with “10 Afridi” inscribed on the back. This tournament might as well have been created for the Pakistan all-rounder.
At its launch event in October, Afridi had said: “When [Pakhtoons owner Habib Khan] came to tell me about this, I said, ‘Please, let me play in this format’.”
Predictably, Afridi took to it immediately. His mid-innings salvo left Maratha Arabians with no chance of chasing the 122 they needed. “I really enjoyed it, it is totally different,” Afridi said after the game. “The boys did really well.
Despite it coming in a losing cause, Alex Hales – on his first outing since the incident outside a Bristol nightclub that led to him and Ben Stokes’ suspension from England duty – found his groove immediately. He was left unbeaten on 57 from 26 balls, which included a six off Afridi that landed on the grandstand roof.
“I really loved it, I think it is a great format, full of excitement,” Hales said. “It is a shame we didn’t get over the line today, we just lost wickets at crucial times, and that was probably the difference. You obviously have half the time of T20, and you just have to keep changing gears all the way through your innings.”
It was, of course, a step into the unknown for everyone. Pakhtoons’ total of 121 for 4 had proved well beyond the Arabians, and Hales said “between 100 and 130” would be a good score in 10-over innings in Sharjah.
“We have to keep looking to play straight on the wicket,” Hales said. “The main threat is lbw and bowled, so we have to keep playing nice and straight.”
Earlier, in the tournament opener, Paul Stirling followed up a century in a series-clinching ODI win against Afghanistan on Sunday with an unbeaten 66 for Kerala Kings. That was out of a total of 90 for 2, as they beat Bengal Tigers by eight wickets, with two of their 10 overs still unused.