Central Punjab a step away from a fairy tale end in Quaid trophy

Sohail Ali

LAHORE, Dec 31 (APP): Hasan Ali-led defending champions Central Punjab are a step away from completing one of the most remarkable turnarounds in cricketing history as they take on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the first-class Quaid-e-Azam Trophy 2020-21 five-day final at the National Stadium from new-year’s day, tomorrow , Friday.

Down and out and placed at the bottom of the six-team table at the end of the fifth-round and without a single victory to their name, the team made an inspirational comeback by winning four out of their last five matches and drawing the fifth to climb to the second spot on the points table with a tally of 137 points which sealed their final’s berth.

Needing a convincing win in their tenth-round game against Southern Punjab, Central Punjab completed a resounding 10-wicket win in the second session of the last day to earn enough points (26) that helped them leapfrog Southern Punjab and Northern who both were in the running for the final when the tenth-round began.

Central Punjab:

In the all-important final, Central Punjab would be relying on the middle-order trio of Usman Salahuddin (797 tournament runs at 46.88), Mohammad Saad (608 tournament runs at 35.76) and Saad Nasim (575 tournament runs at 52.27) to lead the team in the batting department.

The trio overcame the loss of seasoned batsmen Ahmed Shehzad and Kamran Akmal with such proficiency that Central Punjab decided to stick with the same combination for the final despite Kamran recovering from the injury he sustained in the earlier rounds of the tournament.

The 38-year-old wicketkeeper batsman Kamran contributed a mere 112 runs in six innings of the first three rounds of the tournament at 18.66 before sustaining a finger injury.

The in-form Usman slammed a remarkable unbeaten 219 off 346 balls against Southern Punjab and laid the match-winning platform for his side. Saad Nasim has been in prolific form since his induction in the team having made his runs in only seven matches with the help of four half-centuries and one century.

Hasan would be aiming to once again spearhead the bowling attack; the right-armer has become the leading fast bowler in the tournament with 38 wickets in eight matches including two five-wicket hauls.

Central Punjab’s pace attack has proven to be the most penetrative in the tournament with Hasan’s effort complimented by Waqas Maqsood who has 34 wickets in nine games.

Spinner Ahmed Safi Abdullah has provided wicket-taking ability with his left-arm spin that has yielded him 33 wickets in nine games.

Hasan Ali, captain Central Punjab: “I am delighted with the performance of my team; our journey to the final is a fantastic story which exemplifies the character and strength of the team and the management. Despite a poor start, we never lost belief and we knew that we had the ability of turning things around.

“We have a great blend of youth and experience and that has helped us immensely especially in the tough situations we have to face. It truly has been an all-round effort and I am really looking forward to an exciting final and the team as a whole is now fully focused and confident of retaining the prestigious Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.”

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa:

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa finished as the top team on the points table by accumulating 161 points (five wins, four draws, one defeat). They recorded the most wins by any team in the double-league group stage.

They finished the group stage with a draw against Northern, the match was dominated by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa outfit that posted a mammoth 521-run total in the first innings courtesy centuries by Israrullah, Rehan Afridi and the leading run-getter of the season Kamran Ghulam.

Kamran has been nothing short of a revelation in this edition of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. The 25-year-old right-handed batsman from Upper Dir has become the first batsman to cross the 1,000-run mark in the season since the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy was revamped as a six-team Cricket Association-based competition last year.

Kamran’s 1,065 runs have come from 18 innings (10 matches) at an average of 59.17, the tally includes four centuries and as many half-centuries.

Adil Amin is the second highest run getter for the side with a tally of 755 runs in nine matches. The seasoned middle-order batsman has scored his runs at 47.19 with the help of a century and five half-centuries.

 

Left-handed opener Israrullah has scored 608 runs at 35.76, while wicketkeeper Rehan has a tally of 550 tournament runs at 34.38.

Mirroring Kamran’s top position in the batting chart is off-spinner Sajid Khan who has collected 62 wickets in 10 matches at 24.81, his tally includes as many as five, five-wicket hauls.

Captain Khalid Usman would be once again pinning his hopes on Sajid to spearhead the attack in the final. Khalid himself has taken 32 wickets in 10 matches with his left-arm spin at 31.28.

Fast bowler Irfanullah Shah, who has collected 17 wickets in five matches with the help of one five-wicket haul, will lead Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s pace-attack.

Coach Abdul Razzaq has a potent pace attack at his disposal with young 19-year-old Mohammad Wasim Jr. also impressing in his maiden first-class season with a tally of 14 wickets in five matches.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also have two more young pacers at their disposal, Arshad Iqbal (11 wickets in four matches) and Sameen Gul (nine wickets in three matches) who can be drafted in the playing eleven for the final.

Khalid Usman, captain Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: “I am really honoured to lead my side in the final of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy as it is the most prestigious tournament in our domestic cricket. Our team has gelled brilliantly in the tournament with both batting and bowling departments delivering consistently.

Kamran Ghulam and Sajid Khan have been outstanding for us but I would like to stress that all the players in the squad have given their 100 per cent and we have seen a number of match winning performances at various stages of the season.

“The final will be an exciting one with two in-form and balanced sides. We are one step away from lifting the trophy that we have worked really hard for and we are entering the final with the same positive mind-set which we have maintained in the season.”

If the final ends as a draw, the winner will be decided as per the following criteria:
•The team that racked up the most first innings points as per 16.9 of PCB Playing Conditions 2020

•If the first innings points are tied, then both the teams will be declared as joint winners (first Innings lead shall not be considered)

•If the first innings of both the teams is not completed within the scheduled duration, the match shall be considered as drawn and both the teams will be declared as joint winners