Chris Gayle lived up to name on Sunday when he led his Afghanistan Premier League of Cricket team – the Balkh Legends - to the inaugural title with a four-wicket win over Kabul Zwanan in the finals.
Gayle’s opener hit 56, his fourth successive half-century in the competition, catapulted Balkh Legends to scoop the title at Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
UAE’s The National reported that while the tournament’s best-known player was the headline act in the final, Balkh were equally indebted to one of their youngest – and previously nondescript – players for their win.
Qais Ahmed, an 18-year-old leg-spinner, upstaged his noted compatriot Rashid Khan as he took five for 18 as Kabul were limited to 132 for nine from their 20 overs.
The youngster had never previously taken as many as three wickets in a senior T20 match. In the final, he accounted for Wayne Parnell, Javed Ahmadi, Laurie Evans, Rashid and Muslim Musa.
According to The National, Balkh’s success was remarkable given the build-up they had to the competition. The day before the event, the group of mostly strangers who had been assembled under the banner of Balkh Legends had to train together in their own casual gear.
The fact the team’s kit had yet to arrive was indicative of a greater malaise. Earlier that day, Herschelle Gibbs, the former South Africa batsman who had initially been announced as the team’s coach, said he was not actually going to be involved after all, as the team’s owner had pulled out, the newspaper reported.
Australia’s Simon Helmot was placed in charge instead.
All-in-all the first edition of the Gulbahar Afghanistan Premier League of Cricket T20, powered by Fogg, invested and promoted by Snixer Sports in association with the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) was a great success and created a space for itself in the cricketing fraternity.
Shafiq Stanikzai, the CEO of the ACB and Ashish Sethi, the CEO of Snixer Sports, also members of the governing council of APL T20, were delighted with the way the tournament panned out in the UAE and are optimistic of its grand success in the future.
“It is a very proud moment for us as administrators, players and the entire nation to have a league which is our own and the pride of Afghanistan where we can give opportunities to the youngsters to show their talent and rub shoulders with the best of the world. The best part of the league is that our own domestic players have performed well and the standard of cricket has been very high,” said Stanikzai.
Sethi also looked back at all the hard work and is very happy with the way things have panned out. “I think it was a dream come true. We were living this dream for almost a year and today we feel content and satisfied. It has been a successful league where a lot of records have been created. Players are very happy and everything has gone well,” Sethi said.
The league has seen some great cricketing action which would be remembered for a long time. Balkh Legends managed to record a total over 240 and then registered a 171-run victory in the semi-final. Hazratullah Zazai smashed a 12-ball half-century and also hit six sixes in an over.
Records also helped the APL T20 2018 raise its profile. “Every league needs an X factor. These records have made it that. The viewership has gone sky high and we have achieved it. We wanted to give a platform for grassroots talent. We are content we have given them more than that. The kind of visibility they have got has been great. It’s been a celebration of cricketing talent,” Sethi explained.
For Stanikzai, this league has meant more as it has helped showcase the Afghan identity to the world, through cricket, a sport that is loved by the country.
“The significant part of this league for the people of Afghanistan, is that we can showcase the true flavor of being Afghan - the hospitality that we are very famous for. Plus, the style of cricket that we play. The people of Afghanistan feel so proud. APL T20 is a stage is where they feel proud and they have a product where the best of the world are playing with their own players. Also, domestic coaching staff have been given opportunity to coach along with experienced coaches of the world,” he said.
With the first edition bringing quality cricket to the fans, there will be eager anticipation come 2019 when the league will return for its second edition.