Khyber Pukhtunkhwa’s captain Iftikhar led his team to beat Sindh by seven wickets to replace the chart leaders from the top perch.
Iftikhar, without the captain Rizwan and fast bowler Shaheen who left for World Cup duties, proved himself to be the supreme commander in the National T20 Cup with an all-around performance at the Gaddafi Stadium, where Khyber Pakhtunkhwa dislodged Sindh with a convincing victory.
In the absence of the services of regular skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed who on Friday was allotted a last-minute berth in the Pakistan squad for the T20 World Cup, Sindh was lacking the boost 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 was asked to bat at the toss. Fresh from his century against Southern Punjab, Sharjeel Khan was dismissed by the debutant Niaz Khan. The seamer, who hails from Swat, forced the powerful left-hand hitter to pull a short 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 when slow left-armed Asif Afridi enticed him to take an aerial route. Shan’s 54 from 37 balls included five fours and one.
Before the dismissal of Shan, Iftikhar had already dented Sindh’s hopes of a substantial total with the wickets of Saud Shakeel (0) and Ahsan Ali (5) in his successive overs. Although Anwar succeeded in smashing three sixes in his unbeaten 27-ball knock of 34, Sindh was curtailed to a meager 152-6.
Iftikhar’s off-spinners fetched him a decent analysis of 2-25 in a game where nobody else could claim a brace.
After his heroics with the ball, Iftikhar starred in the chase after Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lost the top three batters for 54 runs by the seventh over. Farhan who is in great touch throughout the tournament, lent the 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.
Pakistan’s out-of-favor allrounder Iftikhar was decided as the undisputed player-of-the-match as he 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.
After completion of 25 of the 30 group-stage fixtures, it appears inevitable that the fifth-placed Balochistan having three games left would join Southern Punjab on the sidelines. At the moment, the most likely semi-finalists are Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Central Punjab, Sindh, and Northern with all sides having 10 points from five wins.
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.