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APL: Match reports of Day 3

The third day of the all-new Afghanistan Premier League saw engrossing double-headers played between four powerhouse teams. The first game played was between Nangarhar Leopards and Paktia Panthers, while Balkh Legends and Kandahar Knights faced off against each other in the night fixture. 

Speaking of the first encounter, a spirited yet remarkable death bowling spell from Isuru Udana ensured a win for the Paktia Panthers as they beat the Leopards by 21 runs. Mohammad Shahzad won the toss and chose to bat first. The skipper and fellow opener Ihsanullah Janat began the innings with a statement of purpose.

On a flatter wicket, Janat kicked off proceedings with a huge six in the first over. However, his blistering start came to an unfitting end when Mujeeb Ur Rahman, who usually keeps batsmen on the tenterhooks, struck off his fifth ball.  The skipper shifted gears in the fifth over when he struck a couple of boundaries and a six to take the attack to the opposition. In just 28 balls, he reached his half-century, thereby continuing his prime form.

Cameron Delport, who notched an 80-run partnership with Shahzad for the second wicket, fell in the midway stage for a well-constructed 35 of 22 deliveries. His partner followed soon, as a brilliant direct hit from Hashmatullah Shahidi brought the Leopards back in it. Chinaman bowler Zahir Khan made life difficult for the middle order and deservedly finished his spell with 2 for 22.

However, a costly over from Naveen-ul-Haq stimulated the Panthers yet again. The game continued to swerve both ways in the dying stages of the first innings. Ben Cutting illustrated his brilliance on the field with a sensational catch to dismiss Shahid Afridi and picked up three wickets in four balls.

Although the visitors amassed an above-par total of 184, they would have felt they were 20 runs short going into the innings break. Isuru Udana had other plans though.

In his first two overs, the Sri Lankan showcased an exquisite new ball display as he trapped Johnson Charles and the dangerous Anton Devcich. Nangarhar needed 148 more runs from 14 overs after having ended the powerplay at 37-3. Just when the match seemed to have reached out of their hands, captain Ben Cutting entered the crease with his side struggling at 51-5.

He took time to settle in, but once he did, the Aussie made a match out of a one-sided affair with his clean hitting. With six maximums and five fours, he raced to 71. Shahidi too, accompanied his skipper well and shared the onus of finding boundaries at regular intervals. Zazai saw his third over smashed for 25 runs by Cutting, who was dismissed in the 19th over by Udana.

The match went down to the wire, but Cutting’s wicket and just five runs from the 19th over meant that the Panthers were left with a herculean task in the final over. 29 runs from the final over was too much to ask from a side that was at 52/5 in 10 overs. Both teams have now won one and lost one.

The second match of the day proved why cricket isn’t merely a batsman’s game. A match-winning spell of 4-0-12-4 from Afghan-international Gulbadin Naib proved to the deciding factor of the result. Two star-studded outfits in Balkh Legends and Kandahar Knights locked horns against each other in a game that saw the Legends move to the top of the table with an authoritative 13-run victory.

Knights won the toss and put their opponents to bat on a slow Sharjah wicket. The explosive Colin Munro and Usman Ghani opened the innings for Balkh. They started off on a positive note, without sparing the wayward lines of Tymal Mills. However, wicket-keeper Karim Sadiq and Amir Hamza Hotak bowled a tight spell to restrict the scoring rate. A needless miscommunication between the openers resulted in a run-out, but the Legends finished their powerplay on 51-1.

Just when Munro looked like he would take the game away from Asghar Afghan’s side, his mayhem was cut short Karim Janat. Nonetheless, the Kiwi had set the platform for the middle order with a quickfire 46. Post his dismissal, Balkh’s innings slowed down as they only mustered 37 runs from overs 10-15. Wickets were on their favour though, as they were just three down.

Due to some poor fielding by the Knights and regular boundaries in the final three overs, Balkh managed 165 from their 20 overs. It wasn’t a daunting total, but certainly good enough to try and defend on a rough track.

The wicket was sure to benefit the slower bowlers and hence, skipper Nabi opened the bowling. While he was taken to the cleaners by Brendon McCullum in his first over, the experienced Afghanistan all-rounder gave away just three in his next. Irish opener Paul Stirling got off to a flyer as well, but a brilliantly executed slower one from Naib brought his cameo to an end. The very next ball, he sent Karim Sadiq back to the pavilion for a first-ball duck.

The same man again came to the party in the 9th over when he removed a well-set McCullum, who could have won the match single-handedly. Yet again, the off-cutter did the trick. Along with him, the clever Ravi Bopara slipped in with a couple of tidy overs. Pace off the ball seemed to have worked extremely well for the Legends.

Although Laughlin was shipping runs, wickets at key intervals piled pressure on the Knights repeatedly. Asghar kept the scoreboard ticking and tried to take the game deep, but neither Karim Janat nor Najibullah Zadran helped him out in the middle.

As a result, the captain fell in the 15th over. In the next two overs, his side only piled up 6 runs, which took the game away from them. The departure of Kevin O'Brien more or less ended all hopes for the Knights, who were in cruise control at one point in the game. Once again, it was Naib who continued to work his magic with the ball. 31 runs from the last over was too much to ask from the chasing side.

The defeat meant that Knights are without a win in two matches and thus, sit on the basement. They will be looking to open their account when they face Kabul on 11 October. Meanwhile, the high-flying Balkh Legends take on Paktia Panthers in their next outing.  

 

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