Azam Khan and Anwar Ali the stars as Sindh book semi-final spot
Mohammad Rizwan's unbeaten 68-ball 99 goes in vain as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa go down by three runs to Central Punjab
Azam Khan's career-best 88 off 43 balls, with eight sixes and five fours in it, headlined Sindh's dominant show against Northern, which ended with a 25-run loss for the National T20 Cup table-toppers. Northern had already qualified for the semi-finals, and the win helped Sindh join them in the final four, where Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have also cemented their place.
After Northern opted to bowl, Mohammad Amir sent back Khurram Manzoor quickly, but they were then punished, especially by Azam and Sarfaraz Ahmed. Sharjeel Khan (21 in 20) and Saud Shakeel (25 in 18) helped Sindh reach 51 for 1 in the powerplay, and though Northern pulled back with the wickets of both the set batsmen soon after that, some brutal hitting from Azam and Ahmed changed the flow of the game.
Ahmed was as effective as his younger colleague. If Azam scored at a strike rate of 204.65, Ahmed hit an unbeaten 52 in 28 balls, scoring at 185.71. The two added 130 runs in 91.2 overs before Amir sent Azam back, ending with 2 for 42. Ahmed, though, continued and helped Sindh put up a formidable 221 for 4.
Northern launched a powerful response as openers Umar Amin (52 in 42) and Zeeshan Malik (61 in 35) put on a 116-run stand. The tide turned when Anwar Ali, returning for his final over, dismissed both the batsmen off successive balls. Asif Ali, batting at No. 4, denied Anwar his hat-trick, but ran himself out off the next ball for Sindh to get their three-in-three. From 116 for no loss, Northern were 117 for 3.
Shadab Khan (26 in 16) and Haider Ali (27 in 13) tried their best, but the asking rate was too high for them to catch up.
An unbeaten 99, off just 68 balls, by Mohammad Rizwan nearly took Khyber Pakhtunkhwa past Central Punjab, till they fell short by three runs in the late match on the day.
Needing 21 in the final over, bowled by Ehsan Adil, Rizwan single-handedly took it to the last ball with four, four and six leading up to the final delivery, but managed only two off it. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, who had already qualified for the final four, stayed on ten points from nine games, but Central Punjab, with the win, got to eight points from their ten games to give themselves a chance of making the semi-finals. Their progress, or not, depends on Balochistan's performance in their last two games.
After opting to bowl, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Imran Khan removed Kamran Akmal for a duck, but Babar Azam (39 in 33) and Abdullah Shafique (63 in 48) led the recovery with an 80-run partnership, though it wasn't too frenetic. Babar fell first, in the 12th over, and both Shafique and Faheem Ashraf fell in the 18th over, but Muhammad Akhlaq, playing only his second game, smacked three sixes and four fours in a brisk 50* off 29 balls to take his team to a combative 174 for 4.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa got off to a shaky start in response, losing three wickets within five overs with 27 on the board. More wickets fell after that, leaving Rizwan to fight a lone battle. He first anchored a 40-run stand with Iftikhar Ahmed (21 in 13) and then had another partnership of 57 runs with No. 7 Musadiq Ahmed (17 in 13) to take the game deep. But, despite his best efforts, his team fell agonisingly short in the end.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent