Somewhere in the Sialkot Stallions dressing room is a board on which they write down their tactics. On that board will simply be written the words ‘unleash Nauman Anwar’ in large, bold letters. It is a strategy brilliant in its simplicity — a strategy that has made the Sialkot side the T20 champions of Pakistan as they cantered to a 74-run win over Lahore Lions.
Nauman had almost single-handedly taken his side into the final with an 80-run knock in the semi-final and he repeated the trick again. On a day dominated by the bowlers, Nauman stood out with the bat, standing firm while others in the top-order collapsed around him, making 97 off just 54 balls but fell agonisingly short of a deserving century.
Stallions won the toss and decided to bat first, hoping to post a good total for their bowlers to defend. Nauman carried off where he had left off in the last match, scoring at will, but early wickets threatened to derail the Sialkot side.
Things did not go as planned at the start as Mukhtar Ahmed was dismissed for six in the third over as Umar Akmal took a superb running catch at the edge of the rope. Bilal Asif and Ahmed Butt fell soon after, leaving the Stallions side in a spot of bother at 3-39 as Haris Sohail walked out.
But just when the favourites threatened to run away with it, Nauman and Haris put together a superb counter-attacking partnership. The duo took advantage of their right-hand/left-hand combination and chose which bowlers to attack, with the right-handed Nauman taking on the off-spinners and Haris taking on the leg-spinners and left-armers.
Again though, the majority of the damage was done by Nauman — the six that brought up Sialkot’s hundred saw Nauman move to 75. Soon Nauman had reached 80 off 41 balls — the exact same figure at the time of his semi-final dismissal. But while the 43rd ball of his knock against Karachi Dolphins crashed into his middle stump, the 42nd here cleared the mid-wicket boundary off an almost identical shot.
It seemed the 19-year-old was destined for his hundred but it was not to be as he slapped an Ashraf delivery straight down mid-on’s throat, trying to bring up his hundred with a maximum. A scream of anguish followed his dismissal but his work was done, with the Stallions 150-4 after 15.1 overs.
A score of over 200 looked likely but an impressive second spell by Aizaz Cheema — who finished with figures of 4-34 — roped in the Sialkot batsmen a bit, who finished with 197-9.
Nauman’s innings looked all the more impressive when compared with the way all other batsmen struggled in the innings. Haris Sohail’s 47 off 34 balls was the only other contribution of note but that included two dropped chances.
Lahore Lions needed a good start from openers Ahmed Shehzad and Kamran Akmal if they were to get anywhere near the steep target but Bilawal Bhatti ensured Lions went off to a nightmare beginning.
Ahmed Shehzad’s stumps were shattered on the very first ball to make a difficult task even more so. It went from bad to worse in the next over as Muhammad Hafeez, in at one-down, swept uppishly off Sultan Ahmed and into the grateful hands of Malik.
Kamran Akmal and Nasir Jamshed followed soon after as Lions were reduced to 25-4 in five overs.
Umar Akmal provided the last remaining semblance of hope but missed a sweep shot off Bilal Asif and was bowled. The favourites’ much-vaunted top-five — who have a combined 878 caps for Pakistan across all formats — were back in the hut with the score at 62-5 after 10.2 overs to leave no hope of Lahore defending their title.
Despite the last 10 overs being a formality, the Iqbal Stadium — where not even a single empty seat could be seen — cheered on every boundary and wicket raucously. Lions managed 123-8 in their 20 overs, falling a considerable 74 runs short of the mark, to spark wild scenes of celebration and a victory lap from the newly-crowned T20 champions of Pakistan.
Nauman, awarded the man of the match, thanked the support he had received from the Sialkot camp and winning captain Malik did so too. “I want to thank everyone who took part in this tournament,” said former Pakistan skipper Malik. “The sponsors, the PCB and especially the fans.”
In the end, almost everyone was a winner. Losing side Lahore Lions received Rs1 million, champions Sialkot Stallions Rs2 million, the tournament was an outright success and bodes well for the upcoming Zimbabwe series. But most importantly, Pakistan’s dressing room may soon also feature a tactics board that just says ‘unleash Nauman Anwar’.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2015.