KARACHI: The semi-finals of the National T20 Cup in Multan on Monday provided a stark contrast in terms of competition between the four outfits in fray before Rawalpindi and Lahore Whites emerged victorious to set up an intriguing title-decider.
The opening semi-final at the Multan Cricket Stadium saw Rawalpindi ride on a brilliant knock from Naved Malik to edge out Karachi Whites by only six runs. The other game was horribly one-sided as the classy Lahore Whites handed out Islamabad an 88-run drubbing.
In both knockout fixtures, two men stood out to inspire their respective winning teams. Rawalpindi wouldn’t have managed a total of 157-9 after Karachi Whites skipper Mohammad Sami chose to bowl first without Naved Malik’s blazing 90 runs.
Later in the day, Lahore Whites powered their way to the highest total — and the first 200-plus figure — of this tournament as they amassed 219-6 on the back of Kamran Akmal’s dazzling innings of 93, which is also the best individual score recorded in the event that concludes with Tuesday’s final.
Karachi Whites enjoyed early ascendancy by picking the wickets of Haider (4) and Rawalpindi skipper Umar Amin (7) — both of them top-edging pull shots — with 35 runs on the board. Young Saud Shakeel then joined Naved to add 72 in 48 deliveries to stabilise the innings.
The left-handed Saud, who actually hails from Karachi, continued his impressive display as he scored an invaluable 25 off 27 balls with the aid of two fours before being well held in the deep while miscuing a pull stroke.
Man-of-the-match Naved, however, stood tall. The 32-year-old right-hander from Rawalpindi prospered to register his highest T20 score until he was next man to be dismissed after having adorned his 54-ball knock with nine fours and four sixes. He was superbly held in the covers by Sami off a leading edge against the left-arm Pakistan paceman Rahat Ali in an eventful 18th over during which three wickets fell.
But the catch of the tournament was grabbed by Fawad Alam, who ironically later was to become villain in the piece at the backend of the game. Hammad had almost cleared the boundary rope but somehow Fawad ran across to pluck the ball out of the air as he dived high.
The third wicket in that over was the run out of Mohammad Nawaz.
Karachi Whites launched their chase at breakneck speed with both Khurram Manzoor and Awais Zia, another player who actually belongs to Rawalpindi, racing to 51 in 33 deliveries until Khurram (23 off 15 balls, four boundaries) threw his wicket in ugly fashion when the Pakistan discard played across the line and lost his middle stump to spinner Nawaz.
The dismissal of left-handed Awais for a 30-ball 40 (five fours and one six) spelt doom for the Karachiites as a missed reverse sweep in the 10th over saw him being trapped in front of the stumps by the other left-arm spinner Khalid Usman.
Rawalpindi encountered no real threat from the opposition after that and the prized scalp of Shoaib Malik for a 25-ball 23 with just one boundary, held at mid-off by Khalid off a mistimed drive against Hammad, put them in complete control.
Excellent bowling from the left-arm pacemen Sohail Tanvir and Sadaf Hussain further dented Karachi Whites, who had no one to do the power-hitting while reaching 151-4. And although Fawad managed a half-century — 52 off 37 balls, two fours and one six — Rawalpindi deserved their second triumph against the same opposition on successive days after having won their league-round fixture by eight wickets on Sunday.
The second semi-final was literally reduced to a farce by Kamran and Ali Khan after Imad Wasim, predictably enough, opted to bowl at the toss. The Islamabad bowlers, including the captain (0-23 in two overs), suffered barring one glaring exception — paceman Ahmed Bashir who gave away just 24 runs in his four-over stint while taking the vital wicket of Umar Akmal for a 13-ball 17.
Kamran and Salman Butt (23 off 16, four fours) shared an opening partnership of 59 in the Powerplay. But the real fireworks came when Ali Khan came to partner Kamran as the two plunder 84 from just 36 balls in between overs numbers 12 and 18. The Sialkot-based Ali Khan was the dominant partner as the right-hander bludgeoned six sixes and one four on his way to 51 off only 22 balls.
Kamran was on course for a fifth T20 ton but fell LBW to ex-Pakistan paceman Sohail Khan in the penultimate over after having blasted eight fours and five sixes in his 52-ball innings.
Umar Gul had a match that he’ll definitely want to forget as soon as possible after being taken to the cleaners by Kamran and company. The former Pakistan seamer’s yielded 59 runs — as six times he was hoisted over the boundary — and the wicket of Ali Khan.
By the Powerplay concluded in the second half, Islamabad’s end was also in sight at 44-5. Late hitting from Sohail (23 off 17, three sixes) and Umar Gul (30 off 31, three fours and one six) were last signs of life in this lopsided encounter as the highest partnership of Islamabad, who eventually limped to 131-8, came at the backend when Umar and Arsal Sheikh (11) added 39 without being separated.