By Sohail Ali
LAHORE, Sep 27 (APP): Central Punjab and Sindh will be hoping for change of fortunes when the razzmatazz of the T20 version commences on 30 September in Multan, the City of Saints, with the Rs, 9 million National T20 Cup First XI tournament.
Despite carrying star-studded line-ups in the last edition of the tournament, the two teams made early exits from Faisalabad, failing to reach the knockout stage.
The two rivals, nonetheless, lightened up the tournament from day one with one of the most exciting matches of the edition. Under the Iqbal Stadium floodlights, Sindh chased down a 189-run total on the penultimate ball with only three wickets to spare.
With the Pakistan Cricket Board’s focus on providing more white-ball opportunities keeping in mind the two ICC Men’s T20 World Cups in the next two years, this year’s National T20 Cup will be played on a double league basis. As such, the fans will be treated with two match-ups between the rivals, which, as all the other matches of the tournament, will be broadcasted by PTV Sports.
Central Punjab will be looking to avenge their last year’s defeat when they take on Sarfaraz Ahmed’s men on 2 October at the Multan Cricket Stadium and 10 October at the Pindi Cricket Stadium, Rawalpindi. Central Punjab Central Punjab boast a glittering line-up led by Pakistan men’s limited overs captain Babar Azam, whose meteoric rise with the bat continues to impress the followers of the game. The 25-year-old had an impressive tour of England with the men’s national team. In his subsequent run in the England T20 competition, Babar smashed a career-best 114 not out, hitting nine fours and five sixes in his 62-ball innings.
Babar was one of the only two batsmen to record a century in the previous edition of the National T20 Cup. The other batsman was also from his team, Ahmed Shehzad who misses out this year’s tournament due to a hand injury. Babar will join Central Punjab in the second leg, which commences in Rawalpindi from 9 October. Until then, all-rounder Saad Nasim will lead Central Punjab. Kamran Akmal, another established T20 batsman, further strengthens Central Punjab’s batting department and he will be looking to display a better show than his outing in the last season’s National T20 Cup.
Kamran is the leading run scorer in the history of the HBL Pakistan Super League, one of the most competitive T20 tournaments around the world, with 1,537 runs at a strike rate of over 138. The Peshawar Zalmi wicketkeeper-batsman has three centuries in the tournament, the last one of which was recorded in the fourth fixture of the 2020 edition during a 149-run chase against Quetta Gladiators at Karachi’s National Stadium.
Abid Ali, the only batsman to record a century on his maiden ODI and Test appearances, and 24-year-old Rizwan Hussain, another top-order batsman who brings skill and exuberance in the side, will support these two batsmen. Twenty-year-old Abdullah Shafiq will be another batsman to look out. The right-handed batsman recorded a century on his first-class debut in the first-class Quaid-e-Azam Trophy 2019-20 tournament and has a brilliant opportunity to learn from the star performers around him.
The presence of all-rounders Faheem Ashraf, Saad and Zafar Gohar not only lengthens Central Punjab’s batting line-up but also increases their bowling options. Seventeen-year-old pacer Naseem Shah, who has won admirers all over the world with his raw pace and exceptional skill of moving the ball both in the air and off the surface, is expected to spearhead their bowling attack. Naseem will have the experienced lanky right-arm pacer Ehsan Adil as his potential fast bowling pair.
Along with strong batting and pace bowling units, Central Punjab have a dynamic and versatile spin bowling attack. The spin bowling unit will be led by Pakistan Test spinner Bilal Asif, whose off-spin has accounted for 16 scalps in five Tests. While Bilal will bring the ball into the right-handed batsmen, Usman Qadir and Zafar will spin the ball away from their hitting arc with their wrist and finger spin, respectively.
Squad: Babar Azam (captain), Saad Nasim (vice-captain), Abdullah Shafiq, Abid Ali, Ahmed Bashir, Bilal Asif, Ehsan Adil, Faheem Ashraf, Irfan Khan Niazi, Kamran Akmal (wicketkeeper), Naseem Shah, Qasim Akram, Rizwan Hussain, Sohaibullah, Usman Qadir and Zafar Gohar. Player Support Personnel – Azhar Zaidi (manager), Shahid Anwar (head coach), Samiullah Niazi (assistant coach), Mohammad Asad (physio), Yasir Mahmood (trainer) and Sajid Yasin (analyst) Sindh A line-up full of T20 specialists, Sindh are another side in the tournament who have their all bases covered. They are captained by former Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, who has an impressive youngster, Saud Shakeel, as his deputy.
Sharjeel Khan, Khurram Manzoor, Ahsan Ali, Azam Khan and Asad Shafiq form the core of their dynamic batting unit, which has the potential to not only post but also surmount daunting totals. Openers Sharjeel and Khurram have made a big impression for themselves with their ability to score runs at a brisk rate. Sharjeel, the left-handed batsman, scored 199 runs at an impressive strike-rate of 144.20 in the HBL PSL 2020. He took Karachi Kings’ arch-rivals Lahore Qalandars by storm with an unbeaten 59-ball 74 – hitting five fours and five sixes – as he partnered with Babar Azam (69 not out from 46 balls) to secure a 10-wicket win at his side’s home ground, Karachi’s National Stadium.
Khurram is the leading run-scorer in the history of the National T20 Cup with 2,235 runs in 75 innings at an average of 30.20. He would aim to improve on his last year’s National T20 numbers of 136 runs at 27.20 and provide Sharjeel solid support at the other end.
Twenty-two-year-old Azam Khan left a mark in this year’s HBL PSL 2020 for his ability of hitting big sixes. The wicketkeeper-batsman accumulated 150 runs at a strike rate of over 130. Ahsan Ali, the 26-year-old, is another batsman who adds to Sindh’s firepower. He made his Pakistan debut in January this year at the Gaddafi Stadium, in a T20I against Bangladesh.
In the lower order, Sindh can bank on all-rounder Anwar Ali and Sarfaraz to provide them strong finishes in the death overs. Amongst these batsmen who can hit the ball at will, Test batsman Asad Shafiq will be expected to anchor and hold Sindh’s innings together.
Sindh’s bowling unit is equally impressive. It possesses young gun Mohammad Hasnain who not only has the ability to clock 150kph but also to hit yorker length in the death overs to deny batsmen any scoring opportunities. The right-arm pacer who represents Quetta Gladiators is currently leading the wicket-takers charts in the HBL PSL 2020 with 15 scalps to his name at an average of 19.13 In the last year’s National T20 Cup, Hasnain had the most wickets – nine at 18.22 – for Sindh.
Right-arm pacer Sohail Khan will spearhead Sindh’s bowling attack and is expected to take the new ball. The 36-year-old has taken 117 wickets in the shortest format. Test pacer Mir Hamza is another bowler to watch out. The left-arm pacer has 21 T20 wickets under his belt. Sindh’s coach Basit Ali has picked Mohammad Asghar, a left-arm orthodox who will look to make the most of the assistance available from the surfaces in Multan and Rawalpindi. The 21-year-old has 57 wickets in the format and bowls at an economy of 7.21.
Squad: Sarfaraz Ahmed (captain, wicketkeeper), Saud Shakeel (vice-captain), Ahsan Ali, Anwar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Azam Khan, Danish Aziz, Hassan Khan, Khurram Manzoor, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Asghar, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Taha, Sharjeel Khan and Sohail Khan. Player Support Personnel – Rashid Khan (manager), Basit Ali (head coach), Iqbal Imam (assistant coach), Imran Khalil (trainer), Imtiaz Khan (physio) and Mohammad Asim Hussain (analyst).