Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000
The fate of three teams hinged on the game between Southern Punjab and Balochistan, and it was the side least likely to sneak through to the semis that got over the line. Southern Punjab chased 162 inside 10.4 overs to book their place in Saturday's semis, while Northern beat Khyber Pakhtunkwa by 11 runs
Southern Punjab scripted a stunning win inside 10.4 overs to storm into the semi-finals of the National T20 Cup. After being asked to bowl, Shan Masood's side knew they'd have to chase whatever Balochistan set inside 12.3 overs, but once the target read 162, that equation seemed more academic than realistic.
SP, though, threw the kitchen sink at it, sending Sohaib Maqsood to open the batting with Zeeshan Ashraf. It was carnage in the powerplay, which, thanks chiefly to Maqsood, saw SP rack up 99 runs. Maqsood had brought up a 17-ball fifty, and went on to bludgeon 81 in 29 before he finally tickled one through to the keeper. But the fall of three quick wickets did little to step the scoring. Aamer Yamin and Hussain Talat struck up a whirlwind 19-ball 53-run partnership of their own, and in the end SP got to the target with a scarcely believable 9.2 overs to spare, eliminating both Balochistan and Central Punjab in the process.
When Imam-ul-Haq and Bismillah Khan had diligently accumulated a 69-run partnership in the first innings, it appeared Balochistan would put together too many runs to give SP any sort of sniff. But once the pair fell in quick succession, the run-scoring dried up. Mohammad Ilyas expertly use changes of pace to rob the batsmen of rhythm, conceding at just over a run-a-ball and accounting for Haris Sohail early. An unbeaten 21-ball 37 from Akbar-ur-Rehman appeared to have put enough on the board to at least freeze SP out of the final four, but Maqsood, and a bloody-minded SP, had other ideas.
A splendid team effort from Northern's bowlers saw them edge out KP by 11 runs. In what was a clash of the top two, the bowlers from both sides dominated proceedings, a significant departure from the trend over the course of this tournament. Northern won the toss and batted, only for KP's bowlers to get on top from the outset; Northern were never quite able to free the shackles. Wahab Riaz ripped through the innings, taking five wickets for 21 in his four overs, while there were also wickets for Iftikhar Ahmed and Asif Afridi, who combined to concede just 26 in six overs. Only a late, and retrospectively priceless, cameo from Imad Wasim, who top-scored with 36, got Northern up to 144.
It might have been a tall order to defend but what followed from Northern's bowlers was a masterclass in execution. Each was meticulously disciplined, all five bowlers conceding between 24 and 29 in their quota. Haris Rauf was, as has been the case this tournament, amongst the wickets, taking 3 for 28, but it was the asphyxiating pressure that saw KP's opportunities slip away. Mohammad Haris batted through the innings and faced 70 balls, but could score no more than 79; no other batsman managed more than 11. It was an illustration of the intensity Northern bring to every game, even ostensible dead rubbers, and showcased why the defending champions are favourites to double up this year.