Sharjah: Skipper Asghar Afghan struck a gutsy 74, while Karim Janat and Karim Sadiq kept their cool at the slog end to lead the Kandahar Knights to a heart-stopping four-wicket win over the Paktia Panthers and keep their hopes alive in the Afghanistan Premier League (APL) here late on Wednesday.

Desperately needing a win to stay in the hunt and deny the Nangarkar Leopards the fourth and final spot in the semi-finals, the Knights were led by their captain as they fought well to garner two points and conclude a close chase off the final ball of their innings.

Chasing a challenging 168 for an outright win, it was the Knights’ captain setting up things well despite very little support from his remaining batsmen. And just when he was going all guns blazing, Afghan fell leg before in the 14th over with a well-made 74 runs in 42 deliveries that included five boundaries and six huge sixes for a strike rate of well over 180.

The Knights seemed to lose a bit of their momentum after the departure of Afghan. Najibullah Zadran brought the Knights back on track to reach 154 for 5 with his fiery 23 off 18 balls. After the fall of Zadran it was down to Riki Wessels and Karim Sadiq with their team needing 14 runs and less than two overs remaining. The duo scrambled off three runs and needed eleven in the final over being sent down by Ziaw Rahman.

Rahman clean bowled Wessels off the first ball, but could do very little when Janat and Sadiq alternated strikes with a single and boundary apiece before Sadiq’s heave resulted in a dropped catch and the pair ran through to assure their team a famous victory.

The Balkh Legends (10 points), Paktia Panthers and Kabul Zwanan (8 points each) had already booked their places in the semi-finals leaving the final spot to be contested between the Nangarhar Leopards and Kandahar Knights.

In Wednesday’s early match, the Nangarhar Leopards completed their league engagements with three wins for six points, leaving the Kandahar Knights a mammoth task of winning their final match to secure the fourth and final spot.

Earlier, Samiullah Shenwari weighed anchor with a breezy 65 off 43 balls while Calum MacLeod chipped in with a quick 40 to help the Paktia Panthers to a challenging 167 for 7 in their allotted 20 overs. The opening pair of skipper Mohammad Shahzad (21) and Fazal Zazai (19) ensured a hurried start to the run flow, but with Sayed Shirzad and Karim Janat striking at crucial intervals the Panthers were soon reeling at 48 for 4 midway through the seventh over.

It was then left up to MacLeod and Shenwari to bring in some sensibility to the scoring while realizing 89 runs off 61 deliveries. Shirzad took three wickets for 36 runs, while Janat was miserly with two victims giving away just 18 runs in his four overs.

On Thursday, the Kandahar Knights will take on the Balkh Legends in a do-or-die battle for survival in the early match, while Kabul Zwanan will face Paktia Panthers in an inconsequential last group game before the start of the knockout stages on Friday.

Brief scores

Kandahar Knights def. Paktia Panthers by four wickets: Paktia Panthers 167 for 7 in 20 overs (Calum MacLeod (40), Samiullah Shenwari 65; Sayed Shirzad 3 for 36, Karim Janat 2 for 18) Kandahar Knights 168 for 6 in 20 overs (Paul Stirling 20, Asghar Afghan 74). Man of the Match: Asghar Afghan of Kandahar Knights.

Thursday’s fixtures: (4 pm) Kandahar Knights vs Balkh Legends; (8 pm) Kabul Zwanan vs Paktia Panthers.