Inspired by Karim Janat’s late pyrotechnics, Kandahar Knights made a memorable comeback against the Nangarhar Leopards to record their maiden victory 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). Karim almost single-handedly pushed Kandahar Knights to a competitive 136, following which the bowlers managed to maintain the pressure on Nangarhar Leopards and seal victory by 26 runs.
At one stage, 136 seemed a distant dream for the Kandahar Knights — especially at a time when little has gone right for them. Mujeeb made life extremely difficult for the top order and they had lost their top five for only 27 by the eighth over. Ricky Wessels (22) and Najibullah Zadran (24) tried to resurrect the innings and were successful to an extent. They added 41before Najibullah was dismissed by Nathan Rimmington. Wessels and Mohammad Naveed followed soon after, leaving Kandahar Knights at 75 for eight.
At that stage, getting to the three-figure mark looked difficult, let alone 136. Karim essayed a rescue act that would be long remembered. Sayed Shirzad has his support with an unbeaten 19 but Karim’s 21-ball 40 not out was eye-catching given the circumstances. In the last three overs, they attacked Rimmington and Cutting, helping the Kandahar Knights pick 44. In fact, of the last seven balls he faced, Karim managed to score 25. That assault presented some hope to the Kandahar Knights, who then came onto the field with some belief. Given Mujeeb’s spell of four for 16, Nangarhar would have felt they could have restricted Kandahar Knights to a much smaller score. Zahir Khan and Naveen-ul-Haq also did their bit but some of the other bowlers leaked runs to let the opposition off the hook.
Kandahar Knights came in to defend the score with momentum on their side and Naveed bowled the in-form Anton Devcich early. Karim, who had a great time with the bat, now did his bit on the field, striking with his second ball to dismiss Johnson Charles. Although Shafiqullah came in and attacked from the word go, one could sense an air of nervousness when Imran Janat was run-out. Shafiqullah’s aggressive approach continued though but was nipped in the bud when Karim bowled him for 23. At 41 for four in seven overs, Kandahar Knights were in firm control.
Hasmatullah Shahidi fought the bowlers for some time but could not evade the Kandahar Knights’ dominance. Ben Cutting’s early dismissal only strengthened their chances and once they had Shahidi for 22, the game was firmly in their grasp. Apart from Karim, Naveed also did a splendid job with the ball. Earlier, he set it up with Devcich’s early dismissal and then returned to dismiss Shahidi when the southpaw threatened to take the game through to the end. Waqar Salamkheil then helped bowl through the tail and prevent the Nangarhar Leopards from emulating Karim’s miracle. Mujeeb and Zahir hung around till the end, only to delay the inevitable.
Nangarhar Leopards will only look back and rue a missed opportunity. The game could well have gone their way had they capitalized.
Brief scores: Kandahar Knights 136 for eight in 20 overs (Karim Janat 40 not out; Mujeeb-ur-Rehman 4 for 16, Nathan Rimmington 2 for 33) beat Nangarhar Leopards 110 all out in 19.3 overs (Shafiqullah 23, Hashmatullah Shahidi 23; Mohammad Naveed 2 for 10, Karim Janat 2 for 18, Waqar Salamkehil 3 for 20) by 26 runs.