Iftikhar stars as KP successfully defend trophy

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa successfully defended the National T20 title thanks to their captain Iftikhar Ahmed’s all-round performance, which fashioned a seven-wicket win over Central Punjab in the final at the Gaddafi Stadium on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old all-rounder stroked a whirlwind 45 not out off 19 as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa overhauled a 149-run target with 18 balls spare. Iftikhar arrived at the crease with his side requiring 59 runs from 7.4 overs and smashed two sixes and six fours to finish as the second best batter in the tournament with 409 runs scored at a staggering strike rate of 170.41.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa captain completed the run chase by smoking Mohammad Faizan for a four through cover on the last ball of the 17th over and unleashed a roar in the Lahore night sky. He won the player of the final and the best player of the tournament awards. Adil Amin with an unbeaten 25 off 21 provided Iftikhar support from the other end.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s run chase was off to a quiet start as Central Punjab captain Wahab Riaz bowled a maiden over to Sahibzada Farhan. Young wicketkeeper-batter Mohammad Haris spanked Sameen Gul for a four and a six in the second over before he was dismissed. The second wicket 47-run stand between Farhan, who was named as the best batter for scoring the 447 – the most in the tournament – at a strike rate of 132, and Kamran Ghulam (37 off 31) staged the recovery and put Khyber Pakhtunkhwa into a strong position. Farhan made 26 off 28 and was dismissed by young off-spinner Qasim Akram.

Ahmed, who top scored in the innings with 36-ball 44, smashed Arshad Iqbal for two fours in the second over, but it was the fifth over when their partnership truly kicked off as the two smashed left-arm orthodox Asif Afridi for two fours and a six in an over that added 16 to the total. Ahmed finished the powerplay with a magnificent six over point as Central Punjab gathered 51 from the first six overs.

It was left-arm orthodox Khalid Usman who ended their partnership as he deceived Kamran in the air and had him stumped. Kamran smashed three fours and two sixes in his 29-ball 42.

The next over, Central Punjab’s problems compounded as Iftikhar introduced himself into the attack. Ahmed fell six runs short of what would have been his 40th T20 half-century as he hold out to long-off.

In his next over, Iftikhar accounted for Saif Badar and Hussain Talat as Central Punjab slipped from 85 for one to 101 for five and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa captain finished with a superb three for five. Qasim was the only batter in the middle-order to make a valuable contribution with 11-ball 20. He struck two sixes to Imran in the 17th over, which added 20.

But, from there on, Central Punjab lost wickets on regular intervals. Mohammad Imran removed Mohammad Faizan and Qasim on back to back deliveries in the 18th over and Arshad sent Faheem Ashraf and Zafar Gohar back to the pavilion in the next over. Imran returned in the last over to remove Wahab and end Central Punjab’s innings with four balls spare.