Naeem Khan Niazi

LAHORE, Oct 18 (APP): Muhammad Rizwan, by virtue of his consistent performance in the ongoing National T20 Cup, has proved himself the first-choice wicket-keeper with his all-round performance and leadership skills which steered Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the finals of the tournament.

Eclipsing past other wicket-keepers, Muhammad Rizwan is the fourth leading run-scorer behind Khurram Manzoor (408) Sohaib Maqsood (393) and Imam ul haq (375) with 364 runs in 11 innings which he scored at an average of 40.44 and strike rate 132. Mohammad Rizwan has scored four 50s with the highest individual score of 99* (not not) in the tournament so far.

Muhammad Rizwan has hit 12 6s and 40 4s in the tournament by now and leads all wicket-keeper batsmen while his nearest rival Zeeshan Ashraf hit 13 6s and 24 4s and both will be playing in the final of the National T20 cup on Sunday to improve their statistics. Bismillah Khan of Balochistan is the other wicket-keeper who hit 9 6s and 20 4s in the tournament while former Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed could only hit 4 6s and 16 4s in the 11 matches he played while leading Sindh team which lost the second dsemi-final against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

As a true leader Muhammad Rizwan believed in nurturing young talent under his command. He did not keep wickets in three matches and provided an opportunity to his apprentice Muhammad Haris to prove his credentials with the gloves while he himself played as a fielder and still took four catches in the field.

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Among the other wicket-keepers, only Zeeshan Ashraf of the South Punjab scored 245 runs with two 50s at an average of 27.22 and a strike rate of 155. His flambouyant batting style helped South Punjab put up good totals in crucial matches while his mature innings in the semi-final against North (Pakistan) helped dethrone the current title-holders. Kamran Akmal of the Central Punjab also scored 245 runs in 10 matches but his performance was for a losing cause as his team could not make to the semi-finals due to late inclusion of Captain Babur Azam who joined the team in the second-half of the National T20 Cup in Rawalpindi.

Other wicket-keepers Bismillah Khan (Baluchistan) and Rohail Nazir (North) could not come up to the expectations and could not do well with the bat in the tournament.

While Bismillah Khan scored 213 runs in 10 outings with an average of 23.66 and a strike rate of 133, Rohail Nazir could not impress the fans as he could score only 90 runs at a batting average of 18 runs and a strike rate of 147. It is a fact that Rohail Nazir could not do well as he got powerful performance of North in the group stages which they led with 16 points in 10 matches. North, the reigning National T20 champsions were dethroned by the Southern Punjab team in the first semi-final of the tournament.

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Fromer Captain Sarfraz Ahmed, however, was the big disappointment as he could accumulate only 171 runs in 11 matches of the tournament at an average of 21.37 and a strike rate of 131 with only one 50 plus score. Sarfraz could only hit 20 boundaries in the tournament as compared with 52 of Mohammad Rizwan and 37 of Zeeshan Ashraf. Sarfraz Ahmed (33) is the second oldest wicket-keeper batsman after Kamran Akmal (38) and is not as agile and gritty as in his heydays.

Talking to APP from Manchester, on Sunday, former Pakistan Coach and Director Game Development PCB Mudassar Nazar said Zeeshan Ashraf is a consistent performer and must be included in the team on merit, adding that Zeeshan Ashraf is also one of the fittest cricketers in the domestic cricket.

About Mohammad Rizwan, he said he merits selection in all formats of the Pakistan cricket team, adding that Sarfraz Ahmed did not merit selection in the last T20 match during the England tour. He said Muhammad Rizwan is full of energy and his presence in the field infuses new spirit among the players.

Mudassar further said Muhammad Rizwan emerges as the natural choice for the selectors and coaches for all formats in the Pakistan Cricket with Zeeshan Ashraf as second choice wicket-keeper in the larger interest of the team without resorting to experimenting with the tried horses.