KARACHI: Rising Pakistan batting star Haider Ali and Zeeshan Malik put up a star-studded Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the sword with career-best knocks while inspiring defending National T20 Cup champions Northern to a clinical 79-run victory in the opening fixture in Multan on Thursday.
After Shadab Khan — standing in for regular captain Imad Wasim for the entire duration of the first leg — won the toss at the Multan Cricket Stadium, Haider and Zeeshan took full advantage of some wayward bowling and sloppy fielding to put on a national record second-wicket partnership of 180 off just 90 deliveries.
The power-hitting performance narrowly missed equalling a team record by one run when Asif Ali (23 off 10 balls) and Umar Amin (14 off six) carried Northern to a commanding total of 242-3 — only second to Karachi Dolphins’ 243-2 in the 2010 tournament fixture against Lahore Eagles in Lahore.
Both man-of-the-match Haider and Zeeshan showed scant respect for the quartet of Pakistan left-arm pacers — Shaheen Shah Afridi, Usman Khan Shinwari, Junaid Khan and Wahab Riaz — while surpassing the previous highest stand for this wicket, 169 by Yasir Hameed and Younis Khan for Abbottabad Falcons against Bahawalpur Stags at Islamabad’s National Ground in 2014.
Haider, who impressed during the recent England tour when the young right-hander became the first Pakistani to mark his T20 International debut with a half-century (scoring 54 in the final game at Old Trafford), grew in stature and would have reached three figures had he nit miscued a catch to Mohammad Mohsin in the deep.
Until that point the right-hander from Attock, who turns 20 on Friday, had blazed his way to 90 from mere 48 balls while bludgeoning five sixes and seven fours as he surpassed his previous best T20 score of 69 — for Peshawar Zalmi versus Lahore Qalandars at Lahore during the Pakistan Super League last March.
The Chakwal-born Zeeshan, the 23-year-old right-handed opener, dominated the Powerplay phase — as Northern reached 71-1 — before allowing Haider to take over in the lead role. Zeeshan hammered eight boundaries and three sixes in his 47-ball knock of 77, while improving upon previous highest score of 57.
Shaheen, who dismissed Ali Imran for 21 in the third over of the match, started well but still gave away 38 runs in his quota. Shinwari also suffered with figures of 0-47 in four. Junaid had the satisfaction of dismissing both Haider and Zeeshan in the space of four balls but leaked 44 runs in four overs.
The biggest disappointment was the experienced Wahab. The 35-year-old’s first over was a nightmare as he overstepped thrice and was hit for 28 runs. His remaining two overs were marginally better but finishing with 0-51 in three overs was inexcusable for someone with tons of experience in the shortest format.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were never in the game after that onslaught and limped to 163-9 in their response to the improbable chase. Fakhar Zaman (5) was gone — bowled by the left-arm spin of Mohammad Nawaz while missing a delivery that dipped into the left-handed; Captain Mohammad Rizwan was held in the deep for 17 and the seasoned Mohammad Hafeez (6) unwisely attempted to cut Shadab’s first ball and paid the price.
Opener Sahibzada Farhan offered token resistance with a 48-ball 62 (six fours and two sixes) but the result was never in doubt as Mohammad Musa Khan picked up three wickets at the death.
When this report was being filed, Central Punjab were playing Southern Punjab in the evening encounter.
NORTHERN 242-3 in 20 overs (Haider Ali 90, Zeeshan Malik 77, Asif Ali 23 not out, Ali Imran 21; Junaid Khan 2-44); KHYBER PAKHTUNKHWA 163-9 in 20 overs (Sahibzada Farhan 62, Iftikhar Ahmed 28, Shoaib Malik 20; Mohammad Musa Khan 3-31, Sohail Tanvir 2-34, Mohammad Nawaz 2-37).
Thursday’s fixtures: Balochistan vs Sindh (3:00pm); Southern Punjab vs Northern (7:30pm).