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Pakistan National T20 Cup – Babar Azam’s third successive fifty seals dominant Central Punjab win

Today’s action saw the two most lopsided matches of the tournament. Southern Punjab slumped to the heaviest defeat of the competition, while another Babar Azam masterclass saw Central Punjab cruise past Balochistan.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa beat Southern Punjab by 73 runs

Southern Punjab are on the blink of elimination after a crushing 73-run defeat at the hands of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, who have sealed their spot in the last four. After a 34-ball 68 from Fakhar Zaman and a productive last six overs that saw Mohammad Rizwan’s side plunder 81 runs, Khyber set Southern a target of 206, the sixth time in seven matches that Shan Masood’s side conceded more than 200. Shoaib Malik and Iftikhar Ahmed chipped in with useful 30s, while a spectacular unbeaten nine-ball 33 from Musadiq Ahmed ensured Khyber finished with a flourish.

Southern simply had no response to that. Masood was removed in the first over by Shaheen Afridi, who continued his brilliant form in the tournament, allowing only 14 runs to be scored off his four overs. Malik bowled a wicket maiden that removed the dangerman Khushdil Shah before twin run-outs happened in the same over, as Southern pressed the panic button. The chase might have been over as a contest when Southern slumped to 78 for 7, but there was enough time for Ali Imran to reduce the margin of defeat, with an entertaining 28-ball 48. That, though, wasn’t enough to prevent Southern from crashing to the heaviest defeat of the tournament.

Central Punjab beat Balochistan by 9 wickets

In the second game, Central Punjab injected some much needed momentum to their flagging campaign with a nine-wicket win thanks to a Babar Azam masterclass. They have entirely looked like a different side since the return of their captain from the UK; he eased to his third successive half-century, an unbeaten 40-ball 64 making short work of the 126-run target. An 86-run opening stand with Kamran Akmal had effectively put the game beyond Balochistan’s reach, and when Abdullah Shafique chipped in with 27 not out from just 15 deliveries, Central sealed the win with more than six overs to spare.

But if the classic Azam was responsible for the chase, it was the virtually unknown Ahmed Bashir who ensured his side wouldn’t have to hunt down a big target. Promoted from the second XI, he removed four Balochistan batsmen while conceding at less than a run-a-ball. The fast bowler accounted for opener Awais Zia, and – just as he had began settling in – the opposition captain Haris Sohail, whose 41 was the highest score of the Balochistan innings.

And if Bashir was the pick of the bunch, the others did not leak runs either. Zafar Gohar aside, no one conceded at more than 7.50 runs per over, and it meant the strong Central batting line-up would have little trouble hunting down one of the lowest chases of the National T20 Cup this season.

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