LAHORE: Everything that Iftikhar Ahmed had been touching over the last few days has turned into gold in the National T20 Cup.
It was no different on Wednesday night at the Gaddafi Stadium either. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s ‘Captain Marvel’ was at it again to help his side retain their title.
Riding on Iftikhar’s superlative all-round display, the champions crushed Central Punjab’s aspirations of snatching the trophy from them as they cruised to a seven-wicket stroll with 18 deliveries to spare.
Since the ‘superstars’ such as Mohammad Rizwan, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Fakhar Zaman left for national duty midway through the competition, Iftikhar has galvanized the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa side to maintain the high standards.
An elated Iftikhar later said: “We had vowed that we won’t let down our star players when they had to leave for the [Twenty20 World Cup] camp and just told the guys to play as one unit.”
The small crowd at the ground was anticipating a close encounter but such was Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s control, the decider soon turned onto a no-contest with Iftikhar proving the tormentor with three wickets after fellow spinner Khalid Usman had removed Kamran Akmal for a 29-ball 42 (three fours and two sixes) to break the only meaningful partnership of the Central Punjab innings, which was terminated at 148 in 19.2 overs.
Kamran joined opener Ahmed Shehzad (44 off 36 balls, four fours and one six) after upfront Mohammad Akhlaq had gone for a duck to the second ball of the match after Wahab Riaz chose to bat at the toss. The two Pakistan discards stitched together a stand of 85.
Shehzad then fell to Iftikhar as did Saif Badar and Hussain Talat. Getting the job done, Iftikhar, surprisingly, took himself after bowling just two overs with astounding analysis of three for five figures.
It was then left to Mohammad Imran to create more havoc in the Central Punjab ranks. The 20-year-old left-arm seamer accounted for Mohammad Faizan, Qasim Akram (20 off 11, two sixes) and Wahab to finish career-best figures of 3-26 with Arshad Iqbal grabbing 2-28.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also lost an early wicket but Sahibzada Farhan — who finished as tournament’s leading run-getter (447) — scored 26 and Kamran Ghulam 37 (31 balls) before leaving the stage for Iftikhar and Adil Amin (25 off 21).
Iftikhar, coming at 90-3 in the 13th over, batted like a man in great distress after being overlooked for the Twenty20 World Cup and went on rampage. Out of the unbroken forth-wicket partnership of 62, Iftikhar’s share was a mindboggling 45 from only 19 balls as the right-hander belted six fours and two sixes.
Wahab conceded Khyber Pakhtunkhwa deserved their victory. “We were never in the game after making 148. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were brilliant throughout and obviously deserved to win the final.”
Head coach Abdul Rehman completed an unprecedented treble in the format. The latest triumph with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — who won last year’s T20 crown under guidance of former Pakistan all-rounder Abdul Razzaq — followed the grand success Rehman enjoyed when he was Peshawar’s head coach during their title-winning campaigns in 2024 and 2015.
M. Akhlaq c Haris b Imran Khan 0
Ahmed Shehzad c Farhan b Iftikhar 44
Kamran Akmal st Haris b Khalid 42
Hussain Talat lbw b Iftikhar 6
Saif Badar c Nabi b Iftikhar 7
Qasim Akram c Arshad b M. Imran 20
Mohammad Faizan c Adil b M. Imran 8
Wahab Riaz c Adil b M. Imran 2
Faheem Ashraf c Kamran b Arshad 14
Zafar Gohar b Arshad 0
Sameen Gul not out 0
EXTRAS (LB-3, W-2) 5
TOTAL (all out, 19.2 overs) 148
FALL OF WKTS: 1-0 (Akhlaq), 2-85 (Kamran), 3-89 (Shehzad), 4-100 (Saif), 5-101 (Hussain), 6-131 (Faizan), 7-131, (Qasim), 8-147 (Faheem), 9-148 (Zafar),
BOWLING: Imran Khan 3-0-27-1; Arshad Iqbal 3-0-28-3; Mohammad Imran 3.2-0-26-3 (2w); Asif Afridi 4-0-34-0; Khalid Usman
4-0-25-1; Iftikhar Ahmed 2-0-5-3.
Sahibzada Farhan c Shehzad b Qasim 26
Mohammad Haris c Kamran b Sameen 10
Kamran Ghulam c Kamran b Faizan 37
Adil Amin not out 25
Iftikhar Ahmed not out 45
EXTRAS (W-7, NB-2) 9
TOTAL (for three wkts, 17 overs) 152
FALL OF WKTS: 1-10 (Haris), 2-57(Farhan), 3-90 (Kamran).
DID NOT BAT: Nabi Gul, Khalid Usman, Asif Afridi, Arshad Iqbal, Imran Khan, Mohammad Imran.
BOWLING: Wahab Riaz 2-1-8-0; Sameen Gul 2-0-19-1 (1nb); Faheem Ashraf 2-0-19-0; Zafar Gohar 4-0-33-0; Mohammad Faizan 4-0-46-1 (1nb, 1w); Qasim Akram 3-0-27-1 (2w).
RESULT: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa won by seven wickets.
UMPIRES: Asif Yaqoob and Rashid Riaz.
TV UMPIRE: Shozab Raza.
MATCH REFEREE: Ali Naqvi.
PLAYER-OF-THE-MATCH: Iftikhar Ahmed (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).
PLAYER-OF-THE-TOURNAMENT: Iftikhar Ahmed (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).
Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2021