Having suffered a six week sabbatical since game two of the series due to inclement weather combined with local COVID restrictions, both teams were desperate for a return to competitive cricket, and thankfully playing conditions proved almost ideal over the weekend for the game to go ahead.
Following weeks of downpours, it was the Penguins bowlers, however, that agonisingly faced the threat of Khan in characteristic cavalier form as he rained down a torrent of batting abuse, eventually claiming an unbeaten 144 not out from just 64 deliveries.
But the Penguins will certainly reflect on a woeful fielding display that included five dropped catches inside two consecutive overs and wickets that arguably would have altered the game’s outcome, with Khan being dropped twice during this remarkable passage of play while having just 20 runs to his name.
Batting first, Cows’ opening pair of Ashan Fonseka and Mayur Deuskar took the score to 37 by the start of the fifth over, when Seemant Raju took the ball for his initial over and immediately impacted on the game by dismissing Deuskar (5) with a comfortable catch taken by Jason Robertson at mid-on.
Fonseka (29) would fall just three deliveries later in a carbon copy of Deuskar’s wicket as Robertson and Raju combined once more, with the score now on 42 for 2.
By the end of the dropping debacle in the 10th and 11th overs, Cows’ captain Joe Ninan and Khan had taken the total to 87 for 2, both batsmen very aware that they were extremely fortunate to be still at the crease.
But throwing caution to the wind and capitalizing on the litany of unforced errors and a floundering fielding effort, the Cows’ pair pounced on the Penguins’ bowling, the score swelling to 154 by the 15th over drinks’ break, allowing respite for the Penguins and for the cows in the paddock adjacent to the ACG.
Ninan’s (34) supporting role would come to a close in the 19th over, when Imtiyaz Mushtaq returned to the Penguins’ attack and battered Ninan’s stumps with his first delivery of the over, sending the Cows skipper back on a score of 190 for 3.
Replacing Ninan, Bhanu Pratap Singh and Khan would see out the remaining overs, with Khan celebrating his century later in the 19th over, and the pair adding a demoralizing 72 more runs to the total in posting 262 for 3 after 25 overs.
A solid Singh performance of 24 not out from 21 was eclipsed by Khan’s raucous innings that included a dozen 6s and seven 4s, generating a sense of inevitability that hovered over the ACG during the inning’s break.
Penguins openers Anthony Van Blerk and Raju understood that a run rate of more than 10 per over would require a determined start, but it was a focused line and length initial spell from Sami Pir and Manoj Yaddav that restricted scoring until the fourth over, when a Pir delivery deftly found the edge of Van Blerk’s bat for Richard Clarke to collect behind the stumps with the score on 22 for 1.
Already falling behind the required run rate, Raju (23) retaliated by ravaging the first two balls of Michael Flowers’ first over with a brace of 6s. But Flowers himself would bring about Raju’s demise with a caught and bowled in the eighth over, the scoreboard now showing 46 for 2, some 20 runs behind the Cows at the same innings juncture.
A disappointing cameo from Mushtaq yielded a miserly four runs before Flowers furnished Fonseka with a straightforward catch, bringing the dauntless duo of Robertson and Craig Morgan to the middle, a pairing the Cows knew could throw a spanner in the works of an expected victory.
By the 15-over drinks’ break, the Penguins pair looked to have settled in for a battle, with the score on 103 for 3, but facing an ever increasing required run rate, now at 16 runs needed per over.
The over following drinks offered hope seeing 22 coming off Deuskar’s second over, but that hope soon disintegrated into a pipe-dream when in the very next over Pir rattled Robertson’s (29) off-stump and four balls later, Yaddav claimed Morgan’s (47) wicket in similar fashion.
Livermore in for Robertson could manage just three runs before finding Khan’s hands for Yaddav’s second wicket of the day, and Penguins requiring a realistically unattainable 130 runs to win from slightly more than five overs.
With light beginning to fade, Massa Clarke and Saju Abraham (7 not out) faced a Cows’ attack turning to bowling spin in respect of safety for the players.
The last two overs of the game saw Clarke dismissed bowled by Pir, and with just three balls remaining until inning’s end, Shilash Sharma fell victim to an accurate piece of Fonseka fielding, being run out from a direct hit, and the Penguins well short of the target on 153 all out.
Khan’s 144 not out off 64 was unquestionably rewarded with the man-of-the-match, while other performances of note included Pir’s 3 for 18 off 4 overs, and Morgan’s 47 off 29.
This best of five series returns on Sunday (Sept 26) with game four and a must-win encounter for the Penguins in order to bring the rubber to a deciding match.