KARACHI: Pakistan limited-overs batsman Asif Ali infused belated excitement into the ongoing National T20 Cup in Multan on Friday when the bottom-placed Islamabad secured a dramatic last-ball victory against leaders Karachi Whites.
Rawalpindi later completed a grand double for the twin cities at the Multan Cricket Stadium when discarded Pakistan all-rounder Hammad Azam’s awesome stroke-play sealed a penultimate-ball win over Multan that has guaranteed his side a semi-final berth.
The 27-year-old Asif marked his first appearance in the ongoing event — following a mixed stint with Cape Town Blitz in the recent T20 league in South Africa — by producing the innings of the tournament thus far to enable Islamabad seal a consolation two-wicket win.
The right-hander bludgeoned a tournament-high 97 from 62 deliveries to turn a certain defeat for the federal capital side into an unexpected triumph for Imad Wasim’s charges against a side which is already through to the knockout round.
Chasing 157, Islamabad were in doldrums at 35-4 at the completion of the powerplay overs. But Asif, who had gone at 22-2 in fourth over, anchored the innings to perfection. He found an able partner in the left-handed Ali Sarfraz (26 off 13 balls, three boundaries) and together they stitched a partnership of 81 in 58 balls.
But the dismissal of Ali via a run out triggered another collapse that saw four wickets fall in the space of 28 runs.
However, Asif curbed his natural instinct quite superbly and nonchalantly made easy meal of the required 13 runs in the final over of the match delivered by slow left-armer Mohammad Asghar (3-30 in four overs). After Asif ran a brace, Asghar bowled a wide and then watched haplessly as Asif hoisted his fifth six of the innings.
Asif, who also struck seven boundaries, played two back-to-back dot balls before taking two runs each of the last two deliveries to see Islamabad hold their heads high.
Earlier, the game was marred by an unsavoury incident when Karachi Whites opener Khurram Manzoor unnecessarily got himself engaged in a heated banter with several Islamabad players after being bowled for a 29-ball 26 (four fours) on a cold Multan morning.
Danish Aziz provided much-needed acceleration to the Karachi innings that sorely missed the rested Shoaib Malik. The young southpaw banged six fours and one six in scoring an unconquered 43 off just 27 balls and scored the bulk of runs in the last over, bowled paceman Ahmed Bashir, which went for 24 runs.
Asif was easy choice for the man-of-the-match.
Meanwhile, Mohammad Nawaz snared career-best figures of 5-24 from his four-over stint to restrict Multan to 152-6 after Rawalpindi skipper Umar Amin emulated Imad Wasim by opting to field first at the toss.
Pakistan discard Sohaib Maqsood played a captain’s innings as the tall right-hander delighted a small hometown crowd by hitting up an unbeaten 75 with his 54-ball contribution featuring five fours and four sixes.
Opener Zeeshan Malik, another shock omission for the fourth edition of Pakistan Super League, blazed his way to 35-ball 38 by carving six boundaries while putting on 80 for the second wicket with Sohaib.
Nawaz was twice denied a hat-trick but his control meant Multan only got 152-6 when a total of 180 was within their reach.
Rawalpindi lost three wickets upfront before youngster Saud Shakeel was joined by fellow left-hander Nawaz in match-defining partnership of 53. Saud batted with great commonsense despite his young age to notch a maiden half-century in this format.
But after both Nawaz (14) and Saud (54 off 35 balls, seven fours) were bowled, Hammad, who returned triumphantly on a 22-ball 44 (four fours and one six), took the role of a finisher once again. The right-hander not just timed the ball sweetly but also managed to pierce the field with meaty blows to keep pace with the required run-rate.
Such was Hammad’s confidence in his partner Zahid Mansoor that Rawalpindi looked like losing. The end came when Zahid (8) struck Mohammad Imran to the boundary to enable his team complete fourth victory — before Nawaz was declared man-of-the-match — a date with Karachi Whites on the last day of the league fixtures on Sunday.
Rawalpindi beat Multan by three wickets.
MULTAN 152-6 in 20 overs (Sohaib Maqsood 75 not out, Zeeshan Malik 38; Mohammad Nawaz 5-24); RAWALPINDI 156-7 in 19.5 overs (Saud Shakeel 54, Hammad Azam 44 not out; Aamir Yamin 3-36, Mohammad Irfan 2-23).
Islamabad beat Karachi Whites by two wickets.
KARACHI WHITES 156-6 in 20 overs (Danish Aziz 43 not out, Rameez Raja 30, Khurram Manzoor 26; Adeel Malik 2-26); ISLAMABAD 157-8 in 20 overs (Asif Ali 97 not out, Ali Sarfraz 26; Mohammad Asghar 3-30, Arshad Iqbal 2-23).
Saturday’s fixtures: Lahore Blues vs Peshawar (11:00am); Lahore Whites vs Fata (3:00pm).
Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2018