LAHORE: One of the two teams from Lahore will be crowned the winner of the National T20 League after two very different semi-final games at the Rawalpindi Cricket Ground set up the final clash between Lahore Whites and Lahore Blues on Friday.
Both semi-finals were conducted on the same day and at the same stadium, with the first match getting an early start to accommodate the second game which was played under the lights. The matches had earlier been delayed after a tense security situation in the country because of the sit-in in the Faizabad area of the federal capital.
The Lahore Whites triumphed against Faisalabad by 10 runs in the first of the two games on Wednesday, after the latter was bowled out for 132 runs in the final over of the game chasing Lahore’s 142.
The low-scoring thriller saw fans bamboozled once again by Faisalabad’s Saeed Ajmal, who took only a single wicket, but had the batsmen in a tangle giving away a miserly 13 runs in his four overs at an economy rate of just over 3 per over. Faisalabad’s impressive bowling performance did not hold up, however, after their batting was blown away by an inspired spell from left-arm pacer Wahab Riaz who took the two crucial wickets of opener Gauhar Ali and middle-order batsman Ali Waqas, only going for 15 runs in his allotted four overs.
Two wickets from Umaid Ali and one each from the other bowlers all but sealed Lahore White’s win, but Faisalabad did manage to add some thrill into it, dragging it into the final over courtesy a quick cameo by Imran Khalid.
On the other hand, a very different kind of T20 encounter took place between the Muhammad Hafeez-led Lahore Blues and Hammad Azam’s FATA teams. The high scoring game saw the accumulation of 432 runs in the span of the 40 overs of the two innings, with both teams managing to get well over the 200 mark in their totals. The day was cemented further as hellish for the bowlers with not even 10 wickets being toppled over the course of both innings, with Lahore losing only one in their entire innings and FATA too losing most of their batsmen in the ending flurries of their chase.
The Lahore Blue’s will go in particularly confident after their openers maintained their impressive form. Ahmed Shehzad, most in need of good performances seems to be out there to prove a point, scoring yet another century in the T20 format. He remained undefeated at a 104 of only 59 deliveries at the innings break, having scored his 100-odd runs at a strike rate of 176.27. His innings came with the aid of 13 boundaries and 2 stylish sixes.
Nephew of Chief Selector Inzamam ul Haq continued to answer nepotism allegations with the bat as well, scoring a fine 62 of 49 balls with 3 sixes and 4 boundaries before letting one into the hands of Awais Zia while facing the bowling of Mohammad Irfan. Captain Mohammad Hafeez then stepped in at number 3 to score a tantalising half-century off only 19 deliveries with 5 boundaries and 4 maximums to his credit.
FATA responded with a flurry of batting and big hitting in a desperate attempt to chase down Lahore’s massive target of 222, but none of the batsmen managed to consolidate their impressive starts and the steady loss of wickets lead to a final collapse near the end leaving the side stranded at 211, 8 wickets down at the end of their innings. Opener Mukhtar Ahmed and wicketkeeper Khushdil Khan scoring 47 from 22 and 56 from 32 respectively were the two highlights of FATA’s innings.
The final game on Friday will now definitely crown Lahore the champion of the National T20 cup this year, but it is yet to be seen whether this will be achieved Hafeez’s Lahore Blues or the Lahore Whites lead by disgrace former test Captain Salman Butt will pull through as the winner.