KARACHI: It took a pair of Sialkot youngsters to resuscitate Lahore Whites aspirations when all seemed lost in the final of the National T20 Cup against Rawalpindi in Multan on Tuesday.
With the Akmal brothers gone and wickets tumbling at the Multan Cricket Stadium which mercifully drew a fair holiday crowd the trophy was within the grasp of Rawalpindi until Saif Badar turned the game on its head in what was the penultimate over of the 16-day tournament.
With 23 still needed and eight wickets already down, Lahore Whites were on verge of losing the final for a second straight year. But the 20-year-old Saif with fine support from Amad Butt the 23-year-old who like Saif also comes from Sialkot carted Hammad Azams medium-pacers for 21 runs in that fateful over.
Saif and Amad ran a single each from the first two deliveries before Saif smashed the next one over long-on for a six and repeated the dose by picking up a slower one to send it in the same direction before taking a run off the fifth one.
Rawalpindis dying hopes were virtually over when the last ball saw Amad and Saif complete a brace before a frustrated Hammad attempted in vain to run out but his wild throw was missed by wicket-keeper Jamal Anwar as the trickled into the boundary, while giving Amad and the jubilant Lahore side six priceless runs.
There was no way now that Rawalpindi would win and so it proved since Lahore Whites needed just four runs from the final over to scoop up the trophy and the winners purse of Rs2.5 million. The first ball from Sadaf Hussain was nice turned into the empty midwicket region as Saif and Amad easily ran a couple. The moment of glory finally arrived on the second delivery as Sadaf pitched short and the attempted pull only resulted in Saif thick-edging the ball over the wicket-keeper for a four.
Man-of-the-match Saif, who had come to the crease when the big-hitting Ali Khan yet another man from Sialkot was run out for only five to leave Lahore in some strife at 95-4 in the 12th over, returned triumphant on a career-best 35 (off 23 balls, two sixes and one four), having added 36 in just 15 deliveries with the admirable Amad (12 off six balls).
The game provided exhilarating moments and none was more dramatic than the bizarre dismissal of Umar Akmal (34 off 21 balls, five fours and one six) in the 13th over of the chase. Zahid Mansoor, the all-rounder who is an exponent of off-breaks, held a return catch after a hard drive from the Pakistan discard struck him on the side of his head but miraculously enough still had the presence of mind to hold the ball as it got stuck in his palm.
Captain Kamran Akmal, the top scorer with 31-ball 42 (three fours and two sixes) was also well caught at extra-cover by his Rawalpindi counterpart Umar Amin when he tried to hit over the top against Hammad, who then had the left-handed Zeeshan Ashraf cleaned up first ball while trying to play across the line.
Saif stars as Lahore Whites grab title in sensational finale
Given the depth of their batting, Lahore Whites were always favorites to overhaul Rawalpindis tally of 162-8 after Kamran had done what had become synonym with this tournament: win the toss and field.
In hindsight, Umar Amin, who had the consolation of picking up the runners-up trophy and cash award of Rs1.2 million, obviously paid dearly for committing tactical blunders at the death. His overreliance on Hammad who had otherwise bowled exceedingly well with 3-18 until that point rather than the trusted Sohail Tanvir for the 19th over was a critical mistake.
Rawalpindi must be further ruing getting their top-order batsmen to dig deep after Naved Malik had set an ideal platform upfront with another breezy contribution. The 32-year-old right-handers 44 the highest individual innings of the title-decider from 29 balls with the aid of seven fours and one six were insufficient as Haider Ali (4), Umar (11) and Saud Shakeel (5) all perished to soft dismissals.
The all-rounders Mohammad Nawaz (21 off 20, three fours) and Zahid (30 off 21) added 38 and Hammad struck a 19-ball 22 (two boundaries). But their collective efforts were in vain as Saif and Amad outsmarted them in soaking up the pressure of a final with a lot of common sense that ultimately was the real difference between two evenly-matched sets of players.
Naved Malik run out 44
Haider Ali c Ali Khan b Umaid 4
Umar Amin c Umaid b Zafar 11
Saud Shakeel c Saif b Wahab 5
Mohammad Nawaz c Bilal b Umaid 21
Zahid Mansoor lbw b Amad 30
Hammad Azam lbw b Amad 22
Jamal Anwar run out 10
Khalid Usman not out 1
Sohail Tanvir not out 4
EXTRAS (B-4, LB-5, W-1) 10
TOTAL (for eight wkts, 20 overs) 162
FALL OF WKTS: 1-6, 2-35, 3-53, 4-67, 5-105, 6-126, 7-157, 8-158.
DID NOT BAT: Sadaf Hussain.
BOWLING: Zafar Gohar 4-0-28-1 (1w); Umaid Asif 4-0-30-2; Amad Butt 4-0-25-2; Wahab Riaz 4-0-26-1; Bilal Asif 4-0-44-0.
Kamran Akmal c Umar b Hammad 42
Salman Butt lbw b Nawaz 13
Umar Akmal c and b Zahid 34
Zeeshan Ashraf b Hammad 0
Ali Khan run out 5
Saif Badar not out 35
Wahab Riaz c Naved b Khalid 18
Zafar Gohar run out 2
Bilal Asif c Khalid b Hammad 1
Amad Butt not out 12
EXTRAS (LB-2, W-1) 3
TOTAL (for eight wkts, 19.2 overs) 165
FALL OF WKTS: 1-42, 2-77, 3-77, 4-95, 5-97, 6-123, 7-127, 8-129.
DID NOT BAT: Umaid Asif.
BOWLING: Sohail Tanvir 2-0-9-0; Sadaf Hussain 3.2-0-26-0; Khalid Usman
4-0-28-1; Mohammad Nawaz 4-0-45-1; Hammad Azam 4-0-39-3; Zahid Mansoor 2-0-16-1 (1w).
RESULT: Lahore Whites won by two wickets.
UMPIRES: Ahsan Raza and Shozab Raza.
TV UMPIRE: Asif Yaqoob.
MATCH REFEREE: Mohammad Anees.
MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Saif Badar.