LAHORE: After two fruitless campaigns, Central Punjab have finally given themselves a tilt at the National T20 Cup crown.

Having missed out even qualifying for the knockout stage in the previous two editions, Central Punjab were clinical in Tuesday’s second semi-final on their home territory of Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore where they completed a seven-wicket rout of Sindh.

Sindh’s abject surrender at the last-four phase replicated their eight-wicket debacle at the same stage of the competition last year in Rawalpindi. Remarkably Sindh’s top scorer in the corresponding fixture against eventual champions Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at the Pindi Cricket Stadium was Khurram Manzoor with 74 in a team total of 142 all out.

But on this occasion, the 34-year-old Pakistan discard contributed just 34 while Sindh limped to 141-8 after being put in by Central Punjab skipper Wahab Riaz. The only sign of Sindh dominating the match was the Powerplay, which both Khurram and Sharjeel Khan utilised to great effect by putting on exactly 50.

Wahab, in a shrewd move, brought on teenaged off-spinner Qasim Akram for the seventh over. The ploy paid rich dividends as Sindh nosedived to 87-6 in the 15th over as the runs dried up completely. In that period Central Punjab conceded mere 38 runs in 54 deliveries.

Qasim was the wrecker-in-chief. The 18-year-old first forced Sharjeel (32 off 19 balls, five fours and one six) to bottom edge onto the stumps while trying an ambitious cut.

Slow left-armer Zafar Gohar then got into the act when Sindh captain Shan Masood (1) missed a drive against a delivery that straightened up o knock back the off stump before Qasim had Saud Shakeel (7) well taken at gully off a thick outside edge when the left-hander went for a drive.

Khurram, who negotiated 40 balls and hit three, perished next by charging at Zafar and was easily stumped by the returning Kamran Akmal with the score on 86.

Central Punjab were complete command when Danish Aziz’s dreadful form continued. Qasim lured him into giving Faheem Ashraf catching practice at long off on the second ball faced by the struggling the left-hander, who ended up mustering only 76 runs in nine innings for the event.

This was the reason where Sindh actually lost the plot by retaining an out-of-form batter for a crunch match. Head coach Basit Ali left everyone — including the opposition — flabbergasted by axing Mohammad Taha from the playing XI, just a match after the youngster exhibited tremendous courage by scoring an undefeated 47 on a turning track while steering Sindh to a tense victory against Balochistan on Monday.

Sohail Khan made a 24-ball 21 until Wahab poached a return catch off his own bowling. Qasim and Zafar conceded just 30 runs between in taking five wickets.

And although Central Punjab lost Mohammad Akhlaq early, there was no looking back for them as Ahmed Shehzad (49 off 46, four boundaries) and Kamran (51 off 36, seven fours and one six) added 88 before leaving it to Hussain (130 and player-of-the-match Qasim (11) to carry through their side into Wednesday night’s decider against holders Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 13 balls to spare.

Scoreboard

SINDH:

Khurram Manzoor st Kamran b Zafar 34

Sharjeel Khan b Qasim 32

Shan Masood b Zafar 1

Saud Shakeel c Akhlaq b Qasim 7

Sohail Khan c and b Wahab 21

Danish Aziz c Faheem b Qasim 0

Ahsan Ali c Akhlaq b Wahab 6

Rumman Raees Khan run out 14

Mir Hamza not out 19

EXTRAS (LB-2, W-5) 7

TOTAL (for eight wkts, 20 overs) 141

FALL OF WKTS: 1-50 (Sharjeel), 2-51 (Shan), 3-68 (Saud), 4-86 (Khurram), 5-87 (Danish), 6-107 (Sohail), 7-112 (Ahsan), 8-141 (Rumman).

DID NOT BAT: Zahid Mahmood, Abrar Ahmed

BOWLING: Faheem Ashraf 3-0-30-0 (1w); Sameen Gul 3.1-0-34-0 (2w); Wahab Riaz 3.5-0-30-2 (2w); Qasim Akram 4-0-15-3; Zafar Gohar 4-0-15-2; Mohammad Faizan 2-0-15-0.

CENTRAL PUNJAB:

M. Akhlaq c Rumman b Hamza 9

Ahmed Shehzad c Saud b Sohail 49

Kamran Akmal c Rumman b Abrar 51

Hussain Talat not out 13

Qasim Akram not out 11

EXTRAS (B-3, LB-5, W-4) 12

TOTAL (for three wkts, 17.5 overs) 145

FALL OF WKTS: 1-22 (Akhlaq), 2-110 (Kamran), 3-120 (Shehzad).

DID NOT BAT: Saif Badar, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Faizan, Wahab Riaz, Zafar Gohar, Sameen Gul.

BOWLING: Sohail Khan 4-0-24-1; Mir Hamza 3.5-0-37-1 (1w); Rumman Raees Khan 2-0-14-0 (1w); Zahid Mahmood 3-0-20-0; Abrar Ahmed 4-0-26-1; Danish Aziz 1-0-16-0.

RESULT: Central Punjab won by seven wickets.

UMPIRES: Shozab Raza and Faisal Afridi.

TV UMPIRE: Zameer Haider.

MATCH REFEREE: Ali Naqvi.

PLAYER-OF-THE-MATCH: Qasim Akram (Central Punjab).

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2021

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