DUBAI: The Pakistan Super League 4 has it all, from high drama last-ball sixes to narrow wins and from hat-trick to rattling of stumps and brilliant catches. The excitement is reaching at acme after all six teams completed five matches each in the first phase of the Twenty20 league which completed in Sharjah on Sunday. Quetta Gladiators, living up to thier reputation of fighters, are ruling the table with eight wins in five games and it needed an extra-ordinary innings from Colin Ingram to stop the juggernauts. Ingram hit the highest-ever individual score to date of 127 off just 59 balls, spiced up with eight sixes and 12 boundaries to lit up the tournament big time. The first phase had also livened up with two exciting last-ball finishes. Lahore Qalandars outlasting Multan Sultans on Friday with a six by former South Africa all-rounder David Wiese. Very next day Wiese was at the receiving end, conceding a last-ball six to Quetta and Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed. Throughout the first phase, the Gladiators have proved to be a balanced side. They have set plans under an astute coach in Moin Khan and lively captain in Sarfraz – bowl first, restrict the opponents and then chase with authority whatever comes their way. Quetta’s top-order comprising three former players of their countries – Australia’s Shane Watson, South Africa’s Rilee Rossuw and Pakistan’s Umar Akmal – were on fire in most of the matches. Both Watson and Umar have hit two half-centuries to enable Quetta win by six, seven and eight wickets respectively. Umar is at the top of most runs chart with 200, followed by Watson on 186. Rossouw has 157 with one fifty and that defines how good Quetta’s batting is. One-time winners Peshawar Zalmi are second on the chart, primarily due to their fast bowling strength. Zalmi’s Pakistan pacer Hasan Ali has so far stood out, taking wickets in his first over in three matches to jolt the best of batting. Hasan has three four-fors in five games which has fetched him 15 wickets and first place in bowlers’ list. Wahab Riaz, Sameen Gul and Umaid Asif further give firepower to Zalmi’s bowling, while England’s left-arm spinner Liam Dawson is an asset as he can also smash the ball to all corner while batting. Zalmi, though, are waiting for dashing opener Kamran Akmal, who only has one score of 49 to show in PSL 4. Islamabad United, third on the table, again had mixed fortunes. The defending champions started the tournament with a thumping five-wicket win against Lahore Qalandars. But, they then lost to Multan Sultans and Quetta in their next two games as batting let them down. It needed a patient half-century from Ian Bell and a hat-trick by skipper Mohammad Sami to revive Islamabad’s fortunes as they thumped Peshawar by 12 runs to return to winning ways. Luke Ronchi then smashed a fiery half-century to help Islamabad beat Karachi in their last game. Islamabad will next meet Multan in Dubai on Tuesday. Multan are badly in need of a victory as they are lying in sixth and last place, so the title holders can expect a backlash from their opponents. Lahore Qalandars are on fourth after some mixed fortunes. They lost the opening game to Islamabad but did not take long to register a win – that too against old rivals Karachi. Lahore’s newest pace sensation Haris Rauf grabbed four wickets while Rahat Ali (three) and Shaheen Shah Afridi (two wickets) were equally destructive. Lahore found Peshawar bowling too hot to handle as Hasan (four for 15), Wahab (three for 17) and leg-spinner Ibtisam Sheikh (two for 14) wrecked them for a low total of 78. De Villiers and Wiese brought them back on track against Multan before Sarfaraz snatched a last-ball six to leave Lahore with four points in five games. Karachi finally fired and returned to the old winning ways with that Ingram masterclass. They won their first game by a narrow seven-run margin against Multan with half-centuries from Liam Livingstone and Babar Azam, but in their next three matches, they failed to score a single fifty. Their pace attack comprising of Mohammad Amir, Usman Shinwari and Sohail Khan had failed – all taking wickets but containing runs. Amir recorded his best HBL PSL figures of four for 25, but has since taken just three wickets. Sohail has been a major flop while Usman too was wayward and expensive. Lastly, despite having big names in Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi and Andre Russell, Multan Sultan have been unimpressive. Other than Malik and one innings from Vince, Multan’s batting has left a lot to be desired and so has their bowling. The first phase of PSL has once again thrown some exciting talent. Islamabad’s Mohammad Musa and Multan’s Ali Shafiq have impressed with their wicket-taking abilities. Musa took three for 25 on his HBL PSL debut to announce his arrival and was again threatening against Karachi with figures of one for 28. Shafiq was man of the match on his debut against Islamabad with two for 11 in his four overs. The rise of Karachi Kings’ left-arm spinner Umer Khan is a story in itself as he graduated from Under-19 to HBL PSL from a humble background. Umer picked up two wickets against Lahore, including the prized wicket of AB de Villiers. Pakistan regular in Tests and ODIs, Imam-ul-Haq, has also made his presence felt in the HBL PSL with two half-centuries. Published in Daily Times, February 26th 2019.