Hampshire’s newest recruit last night proved he was worth the wait.
Shahid Afridi stole the show for the Royals on his home debut as they crushed Gloucestershire in a rain-affected contest.
The Pakistan all-rounder may not have done much damage with the bat but a remarkable five for 20 with the ball lit up the Rose Bowl on an otherwise damp evening.
Afridi’s career-best t20 figures helped the Royals bounce back after Thursday’s 26-run defeat to Essex in the south group of the Friends Life t20.
The clash at Chelmsford was his belated debut following the resolution of a dispute with the Pakistan Cricket Board which had prevented him linking up with the county at the beginning of the domestic t20 campaign. But his contribution last night proved he is determined to make up for lost time.
After the Gladiators had won the toss and put Dominic Cork’s men in to bat, openers Jimmy Adams and Benny Howell (10) shared 35 for the first wicket before the latter skied an Ian Saxelby delivery to mid-off.
A rain delay hampered Hampshire’s progress, as did a streaker whose bold run across the Rose Bowl ended with him giving himself up to the stewards, who had lacked the ambition to chase him across the greasy surface.
When the game restarted, the busy Adams moved on to an efficient 47 before finally falling to spin legend Muttiah Muralitharan as he aimed a cut into the offside.
The middle order failed to build on Adams’ bright start, with James Vince (11), Sean Ervine and Neil McKenzie all put in a spin by the Gladiators’ slow bowlers Muralitharan (two for 15), Ed Young (one for 19) and captain Kane Williamson (two for 18).
Afridi’s arrival at the crease was met by a loud roar from the home crowd but the exuberant all-rounder could only manage five as the Royals hit the buffers at 97 for six.
Cue Dimi Mascarenhas, left, who looked back to his destructive best as he smashed a quick-fire 25 off just 13 balls – including two welcome maximums, to help Hampshire post a competitive 139 for seven.
The momentum had swung back in the Royals’ favour and they continued to turn the screw after the break.
Danny Briggs (one for 25) struck in his first over, snaring Hamish Marshall leg before wicket for 10.
Mascarenhas then removed the dangerous Kevin O’Brien to leave the Gladiators 15 for two.
Ian Cockbain sparked a mini-revival with a breezy 24 before Afridi came to the fore.
The leg-spinner removed the right-hander before luring Chris Taylor down the wicket only to be stumped by Nic Pothas.
Afridi then claimed the scalps of Will Gidman and Saxelby – either side of Ed Young’s stumps being rearranged by Imran Tahir.
Another shower saw three overs lost – and Gloucestershire chasing a reduced target of 124 off 17 overs.
But while Williamson reached a clever 50, when his attempted paddle was snaffled by Tahir off the bowling Sean Ervine, Hampshire eased to a 16-run victory via the Duckworth Lewis method.