Azam steals thunder as Sindh reach National T20 Cup semis

Updated 15 Oct 2020

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RAWALPINDI: Sindh’s Azam Khan slog sweeps during his whirlwind 88-run knock against Northern in the National T20 Cup fixture at the Pindi Cricket Stadium on Wednesday.—Tanveer Shahzad/White Star
RAWALPINDI: Sindh’s Azam Khan slog sweeps during his whirlwind 88-run knock against Northern in the National T20 Cup fixture at the Pindi Cricket Stadium on Wednesday.—Tanveer Shahzad/White Star

KARACHI: Riding on belligerent batting of Azam Khan and captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, Sindh serenely sealed their semi-final place in the National T20 Cup on Wednesday after handing defending champions Northern a 25-run defeat in Rawalpindi.

Following the helter-skelter victory on the last ball against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 24 hours earlier, the resurgent Sindh cruised to their fourth straight success with ease to join the already-qualified Northern and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the knockout phase.

Coming together at 67-3 in the ninth over after Sarfaraz had lost the toss, the captain kept his wicket intact while the heavyset figure of Azam paid scant respect to the reputation of Northern’s bowling armoury with all six bowlers used having played international cricket.

The 22-year-old right-hander — son of former Pakistan captain Moin Khan — surpassed his previous best T20 score of 55 (against the same opponents during the first leg in Multan) by smashing eight sixes and five fours in a thunderous 43-ball innings of 88. Mohammad Amir had to endure the brunt of the vicious onslaught when Azam bludgeoned the left-armer for two consecutive sixes.

Amir finally extracted revenge by having Azam — the undisputed choice for the man-of-the-match award — caught behind off a leading edge before finishing with 2-42 from four overs. His first wicket was Khurram Manzoor for 13.

Sarfaraz, who had shared a rollicking partnership of 130 in just 59 deliveries, continued his good form by reaching a thoroughly deserving half-century — the ex-Pakistan captain’s 11th 50-plus score in the format — when he deposited the final ball of the Sindh innings, bowled by young paceman Mohammad Musa Khan, over the midwicket boundary for a six. Altogether Sarfaraz’s 28-ball effort included three sixes and an equal number of fours.

Faced with an asking rate of 11.10 from the onset, Northern’s chase was badly handicapped by the rather pedestrian stand of 116 in 76 balls between Umar Amin and Zeeshan Malik. Both surpassed 50 but from the team’s perspective, their combined efforts were futile.

Zeeshan, however, again provided another glimpse of his potential as one for the future as the 23-year-old right-hander from Chakwal scored 61 off 35 balls (six fours and three sixes). Umar — another of the Pakistan discards — contributed a 42-ball 51 (six boundaries and a brace of sixes). Both openers were snapped up by the seaming deliveries of Anwar Ali.

Mohammad Hasnain finally hit his straps with the tournament now moving towards the business end. The 20-year-old speedster from Hyderabad sent back Haider Ali (27 off 13 balls, four fours and one six) and Shadab Khan (26 off 16) as well as Rohail Nazir to end up with an excellent return of 3-28 in four overs as Northern ultimately reached 196-6.

Central Punjab, meanwhile, are almost certain to miss out qualification for the next stage if they fail to beat Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Wednesday’s night game after being stunned by three runs against bottom-placed Southern Punjab late on Tuesday.

Babar Azam, had come into the match on the back of three successive half-centuries, sliced a catch down third man’s lap to the first ball he faced from Aamir Yamin — a dismissal that eventually proved vital as Central Punjab totalled 202-8, despite a 22-ball cameo of 54 (five sixes and four fours) by Faheem Ashraf.

Earlier Southern Punjab had posted 205-3 thanks to workmanlike knocks from skipper Masood (50 off 38, seven boundaries), Hussain Talat (59 off 36, seven fours and two sixes) and Khushdil Shah (47 off 23, three sixes and four fours). Hussain and Khushdil added 68 without being separated.

Scores in brief:

Played on Wednesday:

Sindh beat Northern by 25 runs.

SINDH 221-4 in 20 overs (Azam Khan 88, Sarfaraz Ahmed 52 not out, Saud Shakeel 25, Sharjeel Khan 21; Mohammad Amir 2-42); NORTHERN 196-6 in 20 overs (Zeeshan Malik 61, Umar Amin 51, Haider Ali 27, Shadab Khan 26; Mohammad Hasnain 3-28, Anwar Ali 2-32).

Played on Tuesday night:

Southern Punjab beat Central Punjab by three runs.

SOUTHERN PUNJAB 205-3 in 20 overs (Hussain Talat 59 not out, Shan Masood 50, Khushdil Shah 47 not out, Sohaib Maqsood 25; Zafar Gohar 2-20); CENTRAL PUNJAB 202-8 in 20 overs (Faheem Ashraf 54, Kamran Akmal 32, Mohammad Akhlaq 30, Rizwan Hussain 29, Qasim Akram 21; Mohammad Abbas 3-41, Aamir Yamin 2-38, Mohammad Imran 2-43).

Thursday’s fixtures: Northern vs Balochistan (3:00pm); Sindh vs Southern Punjab (7:30pm).

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2020