Nerveless Ajmal puts Federal Areas in final
Federal Areas 265 (Naeem 71, Nawaz Ahmed 3-44) beat NWFP 264 (Shehzad 61, Rafatullah 56, Yasir 50) by one run
Saeed Ajmal bowled a nerveless, double-wicket final over to seal a thrilling one-run win for Federal Areas over the NWFP Panthers at the National Stadium in Karachi. In what was a virtual semi-final, Ajmal's heroics sent FA through to the Pentangular ODI Cup final, in which they will play the unbeaten Punjab Stallions on Wednesday.
The match had been ticking along through the day, swinging back and forth, building up to a momentous finish. The final twist, as NWFP chased 266, had seemingly come from Umar Gul, whose quickfire 30, helped add a crucial 40 with Khurram Shehzad for the seventh wicket. Gul swotted a massive six over midwicket and some cleanly-hit drives in his short stay but at 249 for 6, with plenty of overs remaining, he was bowled by a Shoaib Akhtar slower ball.
Panic set in, Mohammad Aslam was run out backing up too far and suddenly Shoaib was bowling a critical penultimate over, a maiden. That left two needed off the final over, but with Shehzad still at the crease, on a wonderfully composed 61. Ajmal, however, trapped him second ball sweeping and two balls later had Junaid Khan stumped to spark wild on-field celebrations.
His efforts sealed at least a share of the Player-of-the-Match award, after a well-disguised doosra had earlier accounted for Rafatullah Mohmand for 56. Rao Iftikhar Anjum was the other recipient of the award, as a wonderfully controlled spell of limited-overs bowling had helped him pick up three crucial wickets.
Anjum had come on after Yasir Hameed had given NWFP a rollicking start, smashing Sohail Tanvir and Shoaib around the ground. Though dropped twice, Hameed had sped to 50 off 37 balls before Anjum trapped him with an in-dipper. Two more wickets came in his spell, as he laid the groundwork for Ajmal's late cameo.
FA's score hadn't always seemed enough. Fine contributions from their upper order had left them at 144 for 1, and 300 was on the cards. But once Babar Naeem fell for a fine 71, what momentum there was went with him.
Usman Saeed battled hard to take them to a competitive total and it remained no more than that until Ajmal's late star turn.