KARACHI: Although Southern Punjab, as widely anticipated given the rut they are in, crashed to a sixth straight National T20 Cup defeat, there was a flicker of hope for Pakistan’s Twenty20 Word Cup hopeful Azam Khan.
Ridiculed for his lack of form in the previous games of the Rawalpindi leg — which concluded at the Pindi Cricket Stadium on Sunday night — the 23-year-old son of former Pakistan captain Moin Khan finally showed what he is actually capable of as he thrashed three sixes and three fours.
Azam struck 45 from 40 deliveries in what was his first significant knock of the competition but despite his effort, Southern Punjab were blown away by Central Punjab, who cruised to a seven-wicket stroll on the back of captain Babar Azam’s record-breaking innings.
Firmly rooted at the base of six-team table, Southern Punjab are a shadow of the team which reached the final of the 2020 edition and their latest debacle hardly surprised anyone following the domestic T20 action.
Within the space of four deliveries in the first over of the match, Faheem Ashraf took care of both the openers — Zeeshan Ashraf and Sohaib Maqsood — after Aamir Yamin had elected to bat first.
However, Salman Ali Agha and Azam, who was promoted in the order, then came together to share a partnership of 84 from 66 balls. But once they were separated, Southern Punjab showed no intention to post a fighting score than 119 all out in the 19th over.
Salman, in fact, scored his runs at a better strike-rate than Azam. His 28-ball 40 featured five boundaries. Four batters got ducks while other than Salman and Azam, no one else succeeded in getting into double figures.
Given his heavy frame, Azam certainly has serious issues when it comes to running between wickets. Clearly lacking in cricketing common sense and the required athleticism, he was too slow to make the crease when Ahmed Shehzad threw down the stumps at the non-striker end.
Faheem, who beat Hasan Ali to the player-of-the-match prize, claimed 3-14 with all his victims failing to open their account, while Hasan cleaned up the tail to end up with 4-24 in 3.4 overs.
It was then Central Punjab captain Babar’s turn to hog the limelight. The Pakistan skipper eclipsed Chris Gayle’s record of reaching 7,000 T20 runs in five fewer innings than the Universe Boss’s 192 innings.
Babar warmed up for the second-leg fixtures in Lahore by striking five fours and two sixes in a 49-ball undefeated knock of 59 to extend his tally of runs at the top of batting leaderboard in the ongoing event to 286 runs.
Kamran Akmal, who replaced fellow wicket-keeper/batter Mohammad Akhlaq in the playing XI, contributed a 26-ball 28 and helped Babar share a second-wicket stand of 64 before becoming one of the two victims of young spinning all-rounder Hassaan Khan.
Central Punjab, one of the four sides to have won four of their six matches so far, next take on leaders Sindh in Wednesday’s opening game at the Gaddafi Stadium.
(Tabulated under played, won, lost, points, net run-rate):
Sindh 6 4 2 8 +0.647
KP 6 4 2 8 +0.530
CP 6 4 2 8 +0.458
Northern 6 4 2 8 +0.361
Balochistan 6 2 4 4 -1.147
SP 6 0 6 0 -0.695
Zeeshan Ashraf b Faheem 0
Sohaib Maqsood c Kamran b Faheem 0
Salman Ali Agha c Sameen b Hasan 40
Azam Khan run out 45
Khushdil Shah lbw b Usman 2
Aamir Yamin c and b Faheem 0
M. Imran Randhawa c Qasim b Wahab 5
Hassaan Khan b Hasan 9
Zia-ul-Haq lbw b Hasan 0
Mohammad Ilyas not out 6
Naseem Shah c Babar b Hasan 8
EXTRAS (LB-1, W-2, NB-1) 4
TOTAL (all out, 18.4 overs) 119
FALL OF WKTS: 1-0, 2-1, 3-85, 4-89, 5-90, 6-90, 7-101, 8-102, 9-105.
BOWLING: Faheem Ashraf 4-0-14-3 (1w); Sameen Gul 4-0-31-0; Hasan Ali 3.4-0-24-4 (1w); Usman Qadir 4-0-36-1 (1nb); Wahab Riaz 3-0-13-1.
Ahmed Shehzad lbw b Naseem 9
Babar Azam not out 59
Kamran Akmal c Aamir b Hassaan 28
Qasim Akram st Azam b Hassaan 10
Hussain Talat not out 10
EXTRAS (LB-1, W-5, NB-1) 7
TOTAL (for three wkts, 17.2 overs) 123
FALL OF WKTS: 1-12, 2-76, 3-103.
DID NOT BAT: Shoaib Malik, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Wahab Riaz, Usman Qadir, Sameen Gul.
BOWLING: Aamir Yamin 2-0-18-0 (1nb); Naseem Shah 3-0-25-1; Zia-ul-Haq 3-0-19-0; Mohammad Ilyas 2-0-17-0 (1w); Hassaan Khan 4-0-15-2; Mohammad Imran Randhawa 1-0-13-0; Khushdil Shah 2.2-0-15-0 (1w).
RESULT: Central Punjab won by seven wickets.
UMPIRES: Imtiaz Iqbal and Saqib Khan.
TV UMPIRE: Nasir Hussain.
MATCH REFEREE: Iftikhar Ahmed.
PLAYER-OF-THE-MATCH: Faheem Ashraf (Central Punjab).
WEDNESDAY’S FIXTURES (second leg, Lahore): Central Punjab vs Sindh (3:00pm PST); Balochistan vs Northern (7:30pm PST).
Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2021