LAHORE: The knockout round is a test of nerves and on Tuesday, Iftikhar Ahmed provided ample glimpses that he can, indeed, deliver under extreme pressure.
With the National T20 Cup final spot at stake, the first of the semi-finals at the Gaddafi Stadium here saw Khyber Pakhtunkhwa eventually get over the line against Northern by five wickets and as many deliveries to spare by overhauling Northern’s tally of 156-8.
In the battle between title winners of the first two editions since the format was revamped in 2019, Northern had victory in their sight when Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lost their way in the middle overs after losing the fifth wicket in a space of 50 runs following the opening stand of 57.
Sahibzada Farhan continued his excellent form with another attractive contribution despite being required to bat in the unaccustomed role of an opener. While Farhan was at the crease, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were dictating terms to the opposition as he scored 53 out of the 74 runs when he holed out to long on after striking seven fours and a six during his 39-ball stay.
Fresh from his barnstorming century — against the same rivals — Kamran Ghulam continued from where he had left late on Monday night.
Last season’s top run-getter in first-class cricket, Kamran looked in ominous touch. But after making a 29-ball 35 (six boundaries), he was brilliantly taken by the stumps by a diving Rohail Nazir while trying to cut ex-Pakistan seamer Sohail Tanvir.
On either side of Kamran’s dismissal, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lost the wickets of Asif Afridi — who was promoted to up the ante — and Nabi Gul. With the reigning champions being five down for 107-5 at start of the 16th over, the match was wide open.
With the tension mounting in both camps and Northern getting sloppy in the field, Iftikhar performed like all captains should do in critical times. Lading from the front, the Pakistan discard cut loose in a spectacular fashion.
The game-cruncher came when Salman Irshad — whose bowling action is almost a replica of Haris Rauf — was back in the attack for the penultimate over.
After Khalid Usman had sensibly run a single on the first ball, Iftikhar took over to blast 20 runs from the remaining five deliveries, including a huge strike off a full toss that comfortably cleared the deep midwicket fence.
The captain’s 45 off only 17 balls included 32 runs in boundaries, through four fours and three sixes.
Khalid, however, had the honour of getting the winning runs when the final started with two to get.
The all-rounder repeated what player-of-the-match Iftikhar had meted out to Salman in the fateful 19th over, by depositing another full toss — this time off Aamir Jamal for a six over midwicket to finish on 17 off 11 balls.
Earlier in the late afternoon, the Northern batters were kept on a tight leash after Nasir Nawaz (27 off 18, five fours) and Ali Imran (run-a-ball 24) had set a nice platform by adding 48 in the Powerplay.
But Khyber Pakhtunkhwa regained control despite Zeeshan Malik top-scoring with a 21-ball 29 (three fours and one six) as Arshad Iqbal grabbed three wickets in the final over to dent Northern further.
In the decider on Wednesday, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa face either Central Punjab or Sindh, who were in action during Tuesday night’s second semi-final when this report was being filed.
Nasir Nawaz c Farhan b Khalid 27
Ali Imran c and Iftikhar 24
Umar Amin c Khalid b M. Imran 22
Zeeshan Malik run out 29
Rohail Nazir run out 11
Sohail Tanvir c Haris b Arshad 19
Aamir Jamal b Arshad 19
Mubasir Khan not out 1
Nauman Ali c Iftikhar b Arshad 0
Extras (b-1, lb-1, w-1, nb-1) 4
Total (for eight wkts, 20 overs) 156
Fall of wkts: 1-48 (Nasir), 2-54 (Ali Imran), 3-98 (Umar), 4-104 (Zeeshan), 5-116 (Rohail), 6-153 (Sohail), 7-153 (Aamir), 8-Nauman).
DID NOT BAT: Salman Irshad, Zaman Khan.
BOWLING: Imran Khan 4-0-36-0; Arshad Iqbal 4-0-35-3 (1nb); Asif Afridi 3-0-27-0; Mohammad Imran 4-0-24-1 (1w); Khalid Usman 3-0-21-1; Iftikhar Ahmed 2-0-11-1.
Sahibzada Farhan c Ali Imran b Nauman 53
Musadiq Ahmed c Mubasir b Aamir 7
Kamran Ghulam c Rohail b Sohail 35
Asif Afridi c Umar b Salman 1
Iftikhar Ahmed not out 45
Nabi Gul lbw b Zaman 1
Khalid Usman not out 15
EXTRAS (LB-1, W-1, NB-2) 4
TOTAL (for five wkts, 19.1 overs) 161
FALL OF WKTS: 1-57 (Musadiq), 2-74 (Farhan), 3-80 (Asif), 4-106 (Kamran), 5-107 (Nabi).
DID NOT BAT: Mohammad Haris, Imran Khan, Mohammad Imran, Arshad Iqbal.
BOWLING: Sohail Tanvir 4-0-26-1; Nauman Ali 4-0-17-1; Zaman Khan 4-0-40-1 (1nb); Salman Irshad 4-0-41-1; Aamir Jamal 3.1-0-36-1 (1nb, 1w).
RESULT: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa won by five wickets.
UMPIRES: Asif Yaqoob and Rashid Riaz
TV UMPIRE: Waleed Yaqub.
MATCH REFEREE: Mohammad Javed.
PLAYER-OF-THE-MATCH: Iftikhar Ahmed (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).
Wednesday’s fixture: Final — Khyber Pakhtunkhwa vs Central Punjab/Sindh (7:30pm PST).
Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2021