Brilliant half-centuries by openers Zeeshan Ashraf and man-of-the-match Shan Masood inspired Southern Punjab to a commanding seven-wicket victory in the first semi-final of the National T20 Cup for First XI teams played at the Pindi Cricket Stadium, Rawalpindi on Saturday.
Hot favourites and defending champions Northern had no answers to the Southern Punjab outfit that added another chapter to their remarkable comeback story in the tournament.
At the end of the Multan-leg Southern Punjab were languishing at the bottom of the six-team table with four defeats in as many matches. After a miraculous victory against Sindh at the start of the Rawalpindi-leg, the team roared back in contention and sneaked through to the semi-finals on the back of a heroic chase against Balochistan last night which improved their net-run-rate considerably, helping them seal the fourth semi-final spot.
On Saturday evening, the foundations of Southern Punjab’s 161-run chase were laid by captain Shan and Zeeshan Ashraf who added 91 runs for the first-wicket in a mere 10.2 overs. The left-handed Zeeshan set the tone of the 62-ball partnership with a typically aggressive 55 off 32 balls. He hit four fours and as many sixes as the formidable Northern bowling attack searched for ways to stem the flow of runs.
Shan hit some big shots after Zeeshan’s departure as the hero of last night’s 10.4-over 166-run chase Sohaib Maqsood joined his captain in the middle. The pair added 50 runs off 38 balls before Sohaib fell to Shadab Khan for 16 off 18 balls.
Khushdil Shah (1) was sent packing by Haris Rauf, Khushdil’s departure left Northern needing 16 runs off the last 17 balls.
Shan shouldered the responsibility of taking his team to the target diligently with an unbeaten 78 off 58 balls (six fours, two sixes) as Southern Punjab completed the chase in 18.4 overs to send the defending champions packing. The victory was Southern Punjab’s fourth consecutive win of the tournament.
Southern Punjab will now take on the winners of the second semi-final between Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (tonight) in Sunday’s tournament final which is currently ongoing.