Northern remain on top even as Central Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa recorded impressive wins
Central Punjab crush Sindh
Sindh slumped to a heavy defeat in the absence of regular captain Sarfaraz Ahmed – who is currently with the national side in New Zealand – as Waqas Maqsood‘s nine wickets helped set up Central Punjab’s first win in the competition. Six of those wickets came in the first innings where Sindh were bowled out for 92 to concede a 184-run lead to Central, who had put up 276 thanks to half-centuries from Ali Zaryab Asif and Usman Salahuddin.
Sindh had their opportunities in the second innings after they reduced Central to 117 for 8, but tailenders Ahmed Safi Abdullah and Maqsood took the game away from Sindh by pushing the total to 247. Abdullah’s 60-ball 83, supported gamely by Maqsood in a 68-run tenth wicket partnership, gave Sindh a monumental 432 to chase. An attacking 89 from opener Sharjeel Khan led the reply, but support from the middle order was scant.
Stand-in captain Asad Shafiq‘s vigil at the crease, lasting 54 minutes and 35 balls without producing a run, summed up Sindh’s chase, and indeed their game. The rest was routine, with Hasan Ali making a welcome return to form, taking 4 for 66 as Central completed the rout by 227 runs. They still remain rooted to the bottom of the table, but the win – and the margin of victory – will do their prospects no harm whatsoever.
Northern consolidate top spot
Northern strengthened their hold at the top of the table following an impressive six-wicket defeat of Southern Punjab in what turned out to be the only fairly competitive fixture of the sixth round. Southern, batting first after winning the toss, scored 285 which was largely down to a 143-run fourth-wicket partnership between Umar Siddiq and Saif Badar, who scored 89 and 81, respectively. Northern’s response included a hundred from Umar Amin, while Hammad Azam chipped in with 91, as they moved to a 96-run lead.
In Southern’s second innings, Agha Salman got his second half-century of the game, and Imran Rafiq also hit a fifty to ensure Northern would have a challenging 200 to chase while batting last. However, the requirement proved more straightforward than what it seemed at first glance thanks to 65 from Amin in a 97-run second-wicket partnership with opener Nasir Nawaz. The pair took the pressure off after the loss of opener Sarmad Bhatti for no score, and Azam ensured his side would finish with a flourish, smashing 53 off 48 to take Northern clear at the top by six points.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa sink Balochistan
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remain hot on the heels of table-toppers Northern following their third win in six games, a 175-run defeat of Balochistan. A magnificent 153 from 25-year old Kamran Ghulam inspired Khyber, as he ended up scoring nearly half the runs in a team total of 320. Ghulam kept the runs ticking over even as his team-mates struggled to kick on despite decent starts, with only wicketkeeper-batsman Rehan Afridi making a respectable 58. In reply, Balochistan collectively managed a mere 120, giving Khyber a decisive 200-run first innings lead.
Even though Khyber managed just 199 in their second dig, a Balochistan side that had just one win all season still needed to chase 400 to win, a task that only became more challenging after they slipped to 95 for 3. Though Balochistan gave a better account of themselves in the second innings, no batsman could get to more than Ali Waqas‘ 44. That meant the chase was never really a serious prospect, as Sameen Gul followed up his three-for in the first innings with as many wickets in the second to rip through the middle order. Eventually, Balochistan folded up for 224 with Mohammad Wasim also getting three wickets for Khyber.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000