In one of the most extraordinary turnarounds of this or any other Topklasse season Punjab Rotterdam, thanks to a magnificent unbeaten 114 from Sikander Zulfiqar, recovered from an apparently hopeless 52 for six to beat Voorburg by three wickets on Sunday and progress to next week’s grand final.
In a rain-punctuated reply chasing Voorburg’s 209 for seven, Punjab appeared to be heading for defeat for much of their innings, but dogged knocks from skipper Suleiman Tariq and from Sohail Bhatti gave Zulfiqar the support he needed as he batted his side into a winning position.
Earlier, Tariq had led from the front with an unbroken ten-over spell in which he conceded only 24 runs, while fellow-seamer Mubashar Hussain was even more economical, removing Voorburg openers Tom de Grooth and Mohit Hingorani into the bargain to finish with two for 16 from his unrelieved ten.
Punjab’s effort was all the more remarkable because key allrounder Teja Nidamanuru was able to bowl only seven deliveries before he was forced to leave the field with a hand injury sustained as he tried to stop a straight drive off his own bowling.
By now Tariq had joined Sikander, combining rock-like defence with the occasional meaty blow. But it was one of the latter off Van Beek which flew to De Grooth on the point boundary and ended the skipper’s resistance.
Still Punjab needed 117, now from just 16 overs with only two effective wickets left, and Voorburg must have believed that they had one foot in the grand final.
Bhatti continued, however, where Tariq had left off, and Sikander, himself batting with an injured hand sustained in Saturday’s T20 semi-final, reached fifty with a six off De Leede.
Now Sikander moved quickly through the gears, needing only 25 deliveries to go from fifty to his hundred and hitting four more sixes in the process, and by the time the rain intervened with only five overs remaining, Punjab were on 185, requiring 25 more and just ahead on DLS.
Bhatti played his part, pushing singles to give Sikander the strike, and as the target neared he took a hand himself, slicing Philippe Boissevain away for four off the first ball of the only over he bowled.
Voorburg continued to fight all the way, knowing that dismissing Sikander would turn the game back their way, but Punjab could now be content with ones and twos, and they gradually edged their way towards victory.
The end had something of the Keystone Cops about it as, with four needed, Bhatti pushed to point for a quick single to get Sikander back on strike, the return hit the stumps, and with the fielders’ attention on a sustained appeal for the run out, the ball continued on to the boundary for four overthrows.
Sikander Zulfiqar’s unbeaten 114 came from 116 deliveries and included six fours and five sixes, while Bhatti finished with 31 not out from 38.
Voorburg will look back on this match as an opportunity lost as they prepare to face VRA Amsterdam next Saturday, but the truth is that they were denied by a superb and courageous innings, one which will be remembered for a very long time.
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