KARACHI: Just a few days after they were doomed to make an early exit from the National T20 Cup, Southern Punjab gate-crashed into the final by completing a shock seven-wicket defeat of defending champions Northern in Rawalpindi on Saturday.
Against the run of play, Northern — who had been the team of the competition after chalking up eight victories from 10 fixtures — made an unceremonious exit at the Pindi Cricket Stadium when they failed to defend their total of 160-5.
Southern Punjab — who had qualified for the semi-finals in bizarre circumstances late on Friday night by clinching the last available spot — had been upstaged by Northern at the preliminary stage, losing by 27 runs during the first leg game in Multan on Oct 1 and then going down by five runs in the return encounter in Rawalpindi last Sunday.
Shan Masood’s charges outplayed Northern, who were led by regular captain Imad Wasim, to set up the title-decider on Sunday against either Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Sindh who were engaged in the other semi-final on Saturday night. The skipper led by example as he anchored the chase by staying until the end to score 79 with Southern Punjab reaching 161-3 in 18.4 overs.
While Shan — named man-of-the-match after striking six boundaries and two sixes during his 58-ball innings — Zeeshan Ashraf also made his presence felt emphatically by dominating the opening partnership of 91 in 62 balls. The wicket-keeper, who bats left-handed, crunched four sixes and as many boundaries in making a robust 55 off only 32 deliveries against a star-studded attack of Sohail Tanvir, Mohammad Amir, Haris Rauf, Shadab Khan and Mohammad Musa Khan.
Earlier in the afternoon, Northern batting failed to come off barring Ali Imran and Shadab, who contributed 98 of the 155 runs scored from the bat after Imad had won the toss. Ali hit up a 35-ball 50 (four fours and three sixes) before becoming the first of three wickets for leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood, who gave away 28 runs in his four overs.
Shadab scored an undefeated 48 with his 27-ball knock containing four fours and three sixes but the all-rounder — having led Northern to five straight wins in the Multan leg when Imad was unavailable — was left to rue the lack of major knocks from Zeeshan Malik (16), Haider Ali (18) and Asif Ali (first-ball duck) perished rather quickly.
But the talking point of the entire tournament has been Friday’s night last league-round game and the way it concluded as Southern Punjab raced to 166-3 in an astonishing 10.4 overs — a ne run-rate of 15.57 — to bulldoze into the knockout round.
Regardless of how brilliantly Sohaib Maqsood, who was promoted to open the innings, blazed his way to a hurricane 81 from only 29 deliveries, the spirit in which this match penned out is being eyed with suspicion in various quarters, giving a stark impression that no matter what Southern Punjab had to qualify.
Balochistan, who just were required to win to make the last-four round, put up a dismal show throughout the match. Their body language was simply appalling to say the least both in all three departments.
Upfront after electing to bat first, Balochistan reached an inadequate 161-6 with Imam-ul-Haq (48 off 37 balls, three fours and two sixes), Bismillah Khan (41 off 35, two sixes and two fours) and skipper Haris Sohail 924 off 17, two sixes).
Former Pakistan seamer Umar Gul retired after a glittering career but he had a forgetful night as two overs went for 34 runs and although Amad Butt grabbed two wickets, his three overs cost 51 runs.
Man-of-the-match Sohaib stood out for Southern Punjab as the discarded Pakistan batsman blasted 13 fours and four sixes, while Aamir Yamin bludgeoned four sixes and a four in scoring and unbeaten off just nine balls.
Scores in brief:
Played on Friday night:
Southern Punjab beat Balochistan by seven wickets.
BALOCHISTAN 161-6 in 20 overs (Imam-ul-Haq 48, Bismillah Khan 41, Akbar-ur-Rehman 37 not out, Haris Sohail 24; Mohammad Imran 2-34); SOUTHERN PUNJAB 166-3 in 10.4 overs (Sohaib Maqsood 81, Aamir Yamin 33 not out, Zeeshan Ashraf 21; Amad Butt 2-51).
Final: Southern Punjab vs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa/Sindh (7:30pm).
Final league-round standings
(Tabulated under played, won, lost, points, net run-rate):
Northern 10 8 2 16 +0.895
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 10 5 5 10 +0.116
Sindh 10 5 5 10 -0.220
Southern Punjab 10 4 6 8 +0.166
Central Punjab 10 4 6 8 +0.046
Balochistan 10 4 6 8 -1.042
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2020