All-round Paktia Panthers hand Balkh Legends first defeat in APL T20 2018

Paktia Panthers defended a formidable total of 204 against a strong Balkh Legends batting line-up

Paktia Panthers sealed victory by 37 runs to hand the Balkh Legends their first defeat in the Gulbahar Afghanistan Premier League (APL) T20, powered by Fogg, invested and promoted by Snixer Sports in association with the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB). Defending a score of 204 for four, Paktia Panthers bowlers were on song and maintained the pressure on the dangerous Balkh Legends batting to secure their second win of the tournament.

Balkh Legends got off to a quickfire start in the chase with Usman Ghani taking control in the first two overs. Chris Gayle, playing his first game in the APL T20 2018, smashed Isuru Udana for two sixes and a four in the third over before being castled by a beautiful yorker. Ghani then holed out to deep mid-wicket off Yamin Ahmadzai, where Sikander Raza took a great catch. Balkh Legends found themselves in further trouble with Ryan ten Doeschate dismissed for four. At 53 for three in five over, the pressure was on Balkh Legends.

Ravi Bopara (23) and Colin Munro (23) tried to build a partnership but fell in quick succession as the required rate mounted. At 92 for five in the 12th over, Mohammad Nabi took control and his 15-ball 50 presented some hope for the Balkh Legends. Nabi struck the ball well and managed to find the boundaries with ease until he picked Raza at long-off, which sealed his team’s fate. Udana and Zia-ur-Rehman were the stars for Paktia Panthers, taking seven wickets between them. Udana finished things off in the 19th over to complete his four-wicket haul.

Earlier in the day, the big news was Gayle’s arrival for the Balkh Legends. The fans had to wait to catch a glimpse of him batting as the Paktia Panthers were put in to bat by Nabi. There was no shortage of entertainment though with Mohammad Shahzad starting off in typical style.

Shahzad blazed his way to a 21-ball 42, which featured five characteristic sixes. A checked helicopter shot, if one may call it that, which sailed over long-off for six was the highlight of the knock, which was proof of his rare hitting ability. By the time he was dismissed, Paktia Panthers had raced to 59 inside the powerplay.

At the other end, Ihsanullah Janat (47) went unnoticed but he took centrestage thereafter — not without some good luck. In the ninth over, bowled by spinner Qais Ahmed, Ihsanullah got three lives as a skier fell between two fielders. Aftab Alam then dropped him at long-off as the ball trickled for four and the same fielder then failed to latch on to a tough chance that sailed for six.

Cameron Delport was the man who held fort for Paktia Panthers and ensured the others batted around him. Even when Samiullah Shenwari (25) unleashed his aggression, Delport was calm and ensured the strike kept working over. In the slog overs, Delport took total control and sped away to 70 not out of 48 balls with six sixes and one four. His six off the last ball of the innings ensured Paktia Panthers crossed the psychological barrier of 200. Rahmanullah Gurbaz was promoted ahead of Shahid Afridi and Raza and did his bit with a cameo.

The highlight of the Paktia Panthers innings was the number of sixes they hit — 18. Again, the batsmen made merry and pushed them towards a formidable total.

Brief scores: Paktia Panthers 204 for four in 20 overs (Mohammad Shahzad 42, Ihsanullah Janat 47, Cameron Delport 70 not out; Gulbadin Naib 2 for 46) beat Balkh Legends 167 all out in 19 overs (Mohammad Nabi 40; Isuru Udana 4 for 38, Zia-ur-Rehman 3 for 34) by 37 runs.