Sharjah: Andre Fletcher fell short of a deserving half-century but Shafiqullah Shafiq and Hashmatullah Shahidi, with an unbeaten 51-run partnership, kept the Nangarhar Leopards afloat for a semi-final berth in the inaugural Afghanistan Premier League (APL) at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Wednesday.
Needing a modest 134 for victory and full points, the Leopards first had debutant Fletcher’s quickfire 48 followed by sensible knocks from Shafiq (27 off 17 balls) and Shahidi (31 off 35) to power through for a six-wicket win against leaders Balkh Legends (10 points). The win also helped the Leopards stem a two-match losing run and take their tally up to six points.
The Balkh Legends, Paktia Panthers and Kabul Zwanan have already eased into the semi-finals, leaving the final spot to be decided between the Nangarhar Leopards and Kandahar Knights. The Leopards have finished their league engagements with six points and their future is now hinged on Kandahar Knights’ performances in their last two games against Paktia Panthers (later on Wednesday) and Balkh Legends (on Thursday).
Starting without ace batsman Chris Gayle, the Balkh Legends faltered in taking off after skipper Mohammad Nabi opted to bat first. They reached 46 for two in the first six overs until Ryan ten Doeschate and Ravi Bopara put on 48 off 50 balls to help accelerate in the middle overs. Bopara topscored with 35 while ten Doeschate got 23 off 26 as they reached 133 for seven in their 20 overs.
Needing 6.65 runs per over, debutant Fletcher — later adjudged Man of the Match — set up the Leopards’ win with a dashing 48 off 22 balls, including two fours and six sixes. They stuttered a bit after the quick dismissals of Anton Devcich and Johnson Charles before making it home with two overs to spare.
Brief scores: Nangarhar Leopards def Balkh Legends by six wickets: Balkh Legends 133 for 7 from 20 overs (Darwish Rasooli 27, Ryan ten Doeschate 23, Ravi Bopara 35; Zahir Khan 2 for 24, Fazal Niazai 2 for 30, Naveen-Ul-Haq 2 for 21) Nangarhar Leopards 143 for 4 in 18 overs (Andre Fletcher 48, Hashmatullah Shahidi 31, Shafiqullah Shafiq 27). Man of the Match: Andre Fletcher of Nangarhar Leopards.