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Azam guides Quetta to victory in PSL's opening game

Azam Khan hit a half century and led defending champions Quetta Gladiators to a three-wicket victory over Islamabad United in the opening match of the Pakistan Super League on Thursday.

The burly Azam, son of former Pakistan captain Moin Khan, was playing in only his second PSL Twenty20 game but hit 59 off 33 balls with five fours and three sixes as Quetta reached 171-7 with nine balls to spare.

Azam proved a perfect replacement for Quetta in the middle order after key batsman Umar Akmal was suspended from the PSL for violating the Pakistan Cricket Board’s anti-corruption code.

Quetta Gladiators batsman Dawid Milan hits a boundary as Islamabad United wicketkeeper Sarfaraz Ahmed looks on during the Super League opening match at National Stadium in Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. (AP PhotoFareed Khan)

After being put in to bat, two-time champion Islamabad was bowled out for 168 against Quetta’s three-man pace attack, led by Mohammad Hasnain’s figures of 4-25.

Ben Cutting, who got the key wicket of top-scorer Dawid Milan (64) in the 15th over, took 3-31 while Sohail Khan finished with 2-21 at the National Stadium.

Quetta ran into trouble when it lost Jason Roy (0), Shane Watson (15) and Ahmed Shehzad inside the first five overs and stuttered to 26-3.

Pakistani cricket fans show their tickets stand in a queue to enter National Stadium to watch Pakistan Super League match in Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. (AP PhotoFareed Khan)

Young fast bowler Mohammad Musa (3-34) had Roy leg before wicket in his first over and then had Ahmed caught at mid on in his third over. In between those two Musa strikes, Watson was run out in a mix-up with Ahmed.

But Azam put the chase back on target with a 62-run stand with captain Sarfaraz Ahmed (21) before he was clean bowled when he played onto Faheem Ashraf in the 15th over.

Cutting (22 not out) then took the defending champions home with a six over long off against Islamabad captain legspinner Shadab Khan, who finished wicketless with the expensive figures of 0-46.

Pakistani cricket fans stand in a queue to enter National Stadium to watch the Pakistan Super League match in Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. (AP PhotoFareed Khan)

A packed crowd of 33,000 was present at the National Stadium as Pakistan’s premier domestic event returned home in its entirety after four years.

Peshawar Zalmi, Karachi Kings, Lahore Qalandars and Multan Sultans are the other franchises competing in the tournament.

Four major cities — Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi — will host all 34 matches over a period of 32 days. Lahore will host 14 matches, including the final at Gaddafi Stadium on March 22.

Pakistani cricket fans show their tickets stand in a queue to enter National Stadium to watch Pakistan Super League match in Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. (AP PhotoFareed Khan)

Nine matches will be organized in Karachi, including a playoff, while Rawalpindi and Multan will host eight and three matches, respectively.

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Quetta Gladiators batsman Dawid Milan hits a boundary as Islamabad United wicketkeeper Sarfaraz Ahmed looks on during the Super League opening match at National Stadium in Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. (AP PhotoFareed Khan)

Quetta Gladiators batsman Dawid Milan raises his bat to acknowledge the cheers of spectators after completing a half century against Islamabad United in the Pakistan Super League opening match at National Stadium in Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. (AP PhotoFareed Khan)