There was no fairytale ending to Saeed Ajmal’s playing career on Wednesday when his Faisalabad team went out at the semi-final stage of the Brighto Paints presents Cool & Cool National T20 Cup at the Pindi Cricket Stadium.
For the second straight season, the final will be an all one-city affair with Faisalabad’s conquerors Lahore Whites taking on Lahore Blues, who prevailed over Fata in a contrasting second semi-final that was dominated by a record fourth century from Ahmed Shehzad.
The clash on a chilly Rawalpindi evening was a rousing encounter and went down to the wire before Fata’s truly extraordinary attempt to chase as many as 222 finished just 11 short as the bat overwhelmingly held sway with no less than 432 runs scored while just nine wickets fell.
By a sheer coincidence, the semi-finals provided 10-run win margins for both the Lahore outfits on an emotional day when the affable Ajmal retired from competitive cricket with plans of taking up full-time coaching.
In a career, which started in 1995-96, Ajmal went onto claim 1198 wickets across all three formats from 572 appearances, including 447 in 212 international matches.
On Wednesday, the 40-year-old former Pakistan off-spinner got the opportunity to extend his career until Thursday when Faisalabad did wonderfully well to restrict the free-flowing Lahore Whites to a modest 142-7 after Ajmal decided to field first at the toss.
The in-form Kamran Akmal surpassed the coveted landmark of 400 runs in the competition but for the first time in this event he missed out on a half-century when slow left-armer Imran Khalid had the ex-Pakistan star caught behind for a 22-ball 30, which included six boundaries.
After Kamran — who was outscored by his opening partner and Whites skipper Salman Butt — was gone in the eighth over with 69 on the board, his younger sibling Umar Akmal arrived to play a rather subdued innings.
He struggled to make only run-a-ball 35 in 61 minutes before the overs ran out. Salman, in contrast, batted fluently to strike eight boundaries on way to 40 from 23 deliveries until Test leggie Yasir Shah cleaned up the former Pakistan captain.
Ex-international Asad Ali bowled exceedingly well at the death to take two wickets, while the spin trio of Ajmal, Yasir (1-28) and Imran (1-30) gave away just 71 runs in their combined tally of 12 overs. Ajmal’s final wicket of his career came at the start of the 16th over when Raza Ali Dar (15) was caught by Sahibzada Farhan. Ajmal ended up with tidy figures of 1-13.
Needing to maintain a required run-rate of 7.15, Faisalabad panicked in their chase and loss of wickets at regular intervals allowed Lahore Whites to call the shots once Sohaib Maqsood was caught behind off Aamir Yamin to leave his side in doldrums at 75-4 in the 11th over.
Until that point, Faisalabad were cruising with Sohaib, who scored 39 off 31 balls, opening up to hammer four fours and one six.
Imran (24 off 12 balls, three fours and one six) tried valiantly to keep Faisalabad’s dream alive but when he holed out to Ehsan Adil off the impressive Umaid Asif, Ajmal held his head in dejection in the dugout.
Lahore Whites were sharp in the field too, bringing off three run-outs. Wahab Riaz and Umaid shared four wickets between them before the Man-of-the-Match award went to Wahab.
While the afternoon fixture yielded just 274 runs in 39.4 overs for the loss of 17 wickets with a combined 23 fours and seven sixes hit, Lahore Blues and Fata treated a healthy turnout to blazing stroke-play as the second semi-final saw 43 fours being struck and as many as 18 sixes flying in different directions of the Pindi Cricket Stadium playing field.
Once put into bat by Hammad Azam, Shehzad and Imam-ul-Haq provided a perfect launching pad for the highest total of the tournament — 221-1 — as the openers added 145 from only 88 balls until Imam was taken on the midwicket fence by Awais Zia off spinner Mohammad Irfan after scoring 62 off 42 balls (four fours and three sixes).
Man-of-the-match Shehzad ended up making 104 — the right-hander’s fourth century — from 59 balls as he blasted 13 fours and two sixes. Mohammad Hafeez blasted a 19-ball 52 — the quickest 50 of the event — and completed the feat on the last ball of the innings when he swung paceman Sameen Gul over long leg for a six, the veteran’s fourth of the evening. His belligerent effort also featured five boundaries.
Fata were left with no option but throw their bats at everything. For a while it seemed Lahore Blues won’t be playing Thursday’s title-decider as Mukhtar Ahmed (47 off 22 balls, seven fours and two sixes), Awais Zia (25 off 17), Naved Malik (25 off 10, three sixes and one six) and Khushdil Shah (56 off 32, five fours and three sixes) kept pace with asking rate of 11.10. But the Blues kept taking wickets to derail them.
Semi-finals (summarised scores):
Lahore Blues beat Fata by 10 runs.
LAHORE BLUES 221-1 in 20 overs (Ahmed Shehzad 104 not out, Imam-ul-Haq 62, Mohammad Hafeez 42 not out; Mohammad Irfan 1-35); FATA 211-8 in 20 overs (Khushdil Shah 57, Mukhtar Ahmed 47, Awais Zia 25, Naved Malik 25; Agha Salman 2-30, Aizaz Cheema 2-31, Hussain Talat 2-40).
Lahore Whites beat Faisalabad by 10 runs.
LAHORE WHITES 142-7 in 20 overs (Salman Butt 40, Umar Akmal 35 not out, Kamran Akmal 30, Raza Ali Dar 15; Asad Ali 2-37, Saeed Ajmal 1-13, Yasir Shah 1-28, Imran Khalid 1-30); FAISALABAD 132 in 19.4 overs (Sohaib Maqsood 39, Imran Khalid 24, Gohar Ali 15; Wahab Riaz 2-15, Umaid Asif 2-30, Aamir Yamin 1-15, Bilal Asif 1-21, Ehsan Adil 1-32).
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