LAHORE-Defending champions Northern became the first side to secure a semi-final berth in the National T20 Cup for First XI teams as they overcame Southern Punjab by five runs in a last over thriller played at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium on Sunday evening. 

According to information made available here, Southern Punjab now need to not only win each of their remaining four matches, they would also need help from some other favourable results to sneak through to the semi-finals. In-form fast bowler Haris Rauf (man-of-the-match) continued his golden run in the tournament with a fiery four wicket burst to take his tournament wicket tally to 14 in six matches while ensuring the defence of the below-par 145-run total that Northern had set Southern Punjab. 

Haris removed Southern Punjab captain Shan Masood (4) and Umar Siddiq (0) in his opening burst while Northern captain Imad Wasim accounted for the danger man Sohaib Maqsood for 19 to reduce Southern Punjab to 26 for three in seven overs. Haris then returned to account for Hussain Talat (12) while Southern Punjab suffered a major blow when Khushdil Shah who scored a 35-ball century against Sindh in the previous game, ran himself out in search of a quick single for 26 (20 balls, two sixes).

Zeeshan Ashraf, who batted at number six, fell for 25, Haris then bowled Dilbar Hussain (1) on the final ball of his spell to return figures of four for 23 in four overs. Aamer Yamin kept the hopes alive for Southern Punjab as he brought the equation down to 15 off the last over with some lusty blows, Imad conceded a mere nine runs in the final over while accounting for Mohammad Ilyas. Aamer remained unbeaten on 33 off 19 balls (three fours and two sixes) Southern Punjab ended their 20 overs at 140 for eight. 

Reflecting on his performance, man-of-the-match Haris Rauf said: “I want to thank the Almighty, it was a full team effort and we were well led by our captain. We all gave it our all and it worked for us. I was giving my full effort and trying my hardest, I was a bit disappointed when Khushdil Shah was dropped off my bowling, aggressive bowling is my style and I try and maintain the same approach and help my team with my fast bowling and positive attitude.”

Earlier, Southern Punjab opted to bowl first after winning the toss. Northern were rocked early in their innings on a pitch that offered some help to the fast bowlers in the opening overs. Umar Amin (4), Zeeshan Malik (6) and Rohail Nazir (9) were all sent packing in the first nine overs leaving Northern tottering at 50 for three at a run-rate of less than six runs per over. Northern were then dealt a body blow when Sohail Akhtar who had looked in fine touch fell for 35 (32 balls, five fours) to Ilyas in the 11th over which left Northern 63 for four. 

Asif Ali and Shadab Khan who had been contributing crucial middle-order runs in the earlier games fell for 28 and nine respectively as Northern kept losing wickets at regular intervals. Imad remained unbeaten on 26 off 18 balls (three fours) as Northern finished on 145 for seven in their 20 overs. Ilyas (2 for 22) and Hussain Talat (2 for 28) took two wickets each while Mohammad Abbas (1 for 17) and Aamer (1 for 21) bowled economical spells to stifle the free scoring Northern batsmen. 

SCORES IN BRIEF

NORTHERN 145-7, 20 overs (Sohail Akhtar 35, Asif Ali 28, Imad Wasim 26 not out; Mohammad Ilyas 2-22, Hussain Talat 2-28, Mohammad Abbas 1-17) beat SOUTHERN PUNJAB 140-8, 20 overs (Aamer Yamin 33 not out, Khushdil Shah 26, Zeeshan Ashraf 25; Haris Rauf 4-23, Imad Wasim 2-33) by five runs.