Iftikhar once again exhibited his cool in the first nerve testing semi-final at the Gaddafi Stadium and delivered an ample inning to Khyber Pukhtunkhwa in an extreme pressure situation as they overcame Northern by five wickets to reach the final of the National T20 Cup.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has eventually gotten over the line against Northern by five wickets as they chased 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 an eye on their victory 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 impressive form with another exemplary knock despite being required to bat in the unversed position of an opener. While Farhan was at the crease, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was dictating terms to the opposition as he scored 53 out of the 74-run partnership 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 the 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 including four fours and three sixes made it very easy for the former champions and Khalid who faced the last over, had the honor of getting the winning runs when the final over started with two to get.
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 (24) had set a nice platform by adding 48 in the powerplay.
But Khyber Pakhtunkhwa regained control despite Zeeshan Malik 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.
Meanwhile, the home city Central Punjab produced a commanding performance to book their spot with KPK in the National T20 final with a one-sided seven-wicket victory over GFS Sindh in the second semi-final played under the lights at the Gaddafi Stadium Lahore on Tuesday night.
On Wednesday, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa will face Central Punjab in the final.
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).