LAHORE: Captaincy can be taxing for many an individual on a sporting field.
But Iftikhar Ahmed proved that theory otherwise in Lahore on Saturday. Leading Khyber Pakhtunkhwa following the departure of Mohammad Rizwan and Shaheen Shah Afridi on World Cup duty, he drew inspiration on all fronts.
Iftikhar was the supreme commander in the National T20 Cup as excelled with an all-round performance at the Gaddafi Stadium, where Khyber Pakhtunkhwa dislodged Sindh from their perch at the top by recording a convincing seven-wicket victory.
After completion of the 25 of the 30 preliminary-phase fixtures, it seems inevitable fifth-placed Balochistan — who still have three games left ahead of Saturday night’s clash against Northern — would join Southern Punjab on the sidelines. At this point, the likely semi-finalists are Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Central Punjab, Sindh and Northern with all sides having 10 points from five wins.
Deprived of the services of regular skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed who on Friday earned a last-minute berth in the Pakistan squad for the upcoming Twenty20 World Cup, Sindh were lacking the enthusiasm that is the hallmark of Sarfaraz’s leadership. Anwar Ali just couldn’t do much to inspire his side against the defending champions.
The early run-out of Khurram Manzoor was a big blow after Sindh were asked to bat at the toss. Fresh from his century against Southern Punjab, Sharjeel Khan provided teenaged debutant Niaz Khan with a prized maiden wicket. The Swat-born seamer forced the powerful left-hander to pull straight down the lap of Sahibzada Farhan for a 27-ball 26 (two fours and one six) to terminate Sharjeel’s second-wicket partnership of 59 with Shan Masood.
Shan went to a much deserved first half-century of the competition but still found it tough to strike the ball big. The tall left-hander was also poached by Farhan — this time stationed at long off — when slow left-armer Asif Afridi enticed him to take an aerial route. Shan’s 54 from 37 balls included five fours and one.
Before Shan was fifth man dismissed, Iftikhar had badly dented Sindh’s hopes of a substantial total with the wickets of Saud Shakeel (0) and Ahsan Ali (5) in his successive overs. And although Anwar succeeded in smashing three sixes an unbeaten 27-ball knock of 34, Sindh were curtailed to an inadequate 152-6.
Iftikhar’s off-spinners fetched him decent analysis of 2-25 in a game where nobody else could claim a brace.
After his heroics with ball, Iftikhar starred in the chase after Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lost the top three batters for 54 runs by the seventh over. Farhan — who has been in great nick throughout the event — lent the out-of-favour Pakistan all-rounder excellent support as the duo shared an unbroken stand worth exactly 100 in 68 balls when Khyber Pakhtunkhwa won with two full overs left unused.
Iftikhar, the undisputed player-of-the-match, struck five fours and three sixes in scoring 55 off 34 balls, while Farhan was stranded on 49 with his 37-ball effort featuring four boundaries and a six.
Khurram Manzoor run out 5
Sharjeel Khan c Farhan b Niaz 26
Shan Masood c Farhan b Asif 54
Saud Shakeel c Asif b Iftikhar 0
Ahsan Ali c Aamir b Iftikhar 5
Anwar Ali not out 34
Danish Aziz run out 13
Rumman Raees Khan not out 6
EXTRAS (B-1, LB-2, W-6) 9
TOTAL (for six wkts, 20 overs) 152
FALL OF WKTS: 1-13, 2-64, 3-65, 4-4-75, 5-107, 6-146.
DID NOT BAT: Sohail Khan, Zahid Mahmood, Abrar Ahmed.
BOWLING: Imran Khan 4-0-28-0 (2w); Arshad Iqbal 4-0-32-0; Mohammad Imran 2-0-17-0; Iftikhar Ahmed 4-0-25-2; Asif Afridi 4-0-30-1; Niaz Khan 2-0-17-1.
Mohammad Haris c Abrar b Sohail 7
Aamir Azmat run out 18
Musadiq Ahmed b Zahid 23
Sahibzada Farhan not out 49
Iftikhar Ahmed not out 55
EXTRAS (LB-1, W-1) 2
TOTAL (for three wkts, 18 overs) 154
FALL OF WKTS: 1-19, 2-48, 3-54.
DID NOT BAT: Adil Amin, Asif Afridi, Niaz Khan, Imran Khan, Mohammad Imran, Arshad Iqbal.
Bowling: Abrar Ahmed 4-0-26-0; Sohail Khan 4-0-37-1 (1w); Rumman Raees Khan 3-0-23-0; Anwar Ali 2-0-25-0; Zahid Mahmood 4-0-33-1; Danish Aziz 1-0-9-0.
RESULT: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa won by seven wickets.
UMPIRES: Asif Yaqoob and Zameer Haider.
TV UMPIRE: Shozab Raza.
MATCH REFEREE: Mohammad Javed.
PLAYER-OF-THE-MATCH: Iftikhar Ahmed (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).
SUNDAY’S FIXTURES: Southern Punjab vs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (3:00pm PST); Central Punjab vs Balochistan (7:30pm PST).
Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2021