By Sohail Ali
LAHORE, Oct 05 (APP): Tension, excitement and thrill reaches its climax as the six Cricket Associations boasting country’s best T20 players lock horns in a dash to the semi-finals of the National T20 which begins here tomorrow , Wednesday at the Gaddafi stadium.
The action packed last leg of country’s premier shortest version of the game will be televised live on PTV Sports and live-streamed on the PCB YouTube Channel and Facebook page.
After 18 matches of the tournament, which commenced in Rawalpindi on 23 September and carries a total prize of over PKR9million, all the sides have played six matches each.
Sarfaraz Ahmed-led Sindh, Mohammad Rizwan-captained Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Babar Azam-led Central Punjab and Shadab Khan-captained Northern are locked at eight points apiece with four wins and two defeats. Imam-ul-Haq’s Balochistan have four points, while Aamer Yamin-led Southern Punjab are winless but still in with a chance to reach the knockout stage provided they win their last four matches convincingly and other results also go in their favour.
Action will begin on Wednesday afternoon at 1500 Pakistan time when Sindh and Central Punjab will go toe to toe. At 1930, Northern will square off against Balochistan.
The winner of Sindh-Central Punjab match will move to 10 points and put one step in the semi-finals, while Northern will prefer to follow in the footsteps of the earlier match’s winner though they are expected to face stiff resistance from Balochistan who will be keen to move to six points and remain close to the frontrunners.
Unsurprisingly, world’s No.2 ranked T20I batsman Babar Azam is the leading run-scorer after six matches. The Pakistan captain has scored 286 runs at an average of 71.5 with a strike-rate of 143. He is followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Sahibzada Farhan (220 runs, 36.66 avg., 133.33 strike-rate), Sharjeel Khan of Sindh (212, 35.33 avg., 148.25 strike-rate), Northern’s Haider Ali (208, 52 avg., 141.49 strike-rate), Mohammad Rizwan of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (193, 32.16 avg., 129.53 strike-rate) and Abdul Wahid Banglazai of Balochistan (184, 36.8 avg., 111.51 strike-rate).
Pakistan’s premier fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi leads the bowling chart with 12 wickets with an economy-rate of 8.58. Six bowlers are tied at nine wickets apiece, namely Wahab Riaz, Hasan Ali (both Central Punjab), Asif Afridi, Imran Khan (both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Shahnawaz Dahani (Sindh) and Haris Rauf (Northern), while Sindh’s Ruman Raees is the only bowler with eight wickets.
The six captains are excited and keenly looking forward to the remaining 12 round matches of the Lahore-leg, which will be followed by semi-finals on 12 October and the final on 13 October.
Aamer Yamin said on Tuesday : “After the disappointment of the Rawalpindi-leg we enter the Lahore-leg knowing that we have nothing to lose anymore. At the same time, we remember well how we turned it all around last year after an equally poor start.”
Babar Azam said : “This National T20 has been one of the most exciting T20 competitions I have ever been part of and I have no doubts that the quality and competitiveness of the tournament will get even better when we move to Lahore with all sides vying for semi-final berths.
“Central Punjab have not been able to make their fans happy in the last two editions, but we are eager to lift the trophy at our home ground this time.”
Mohammad Rizwan said : “We have one simple game plan, which is to play cricket according to contemporary standards. It worked for us in the last season and playing attacking, positive and modern-day cricket will help us in retaining our title and entertaining the fans in Lahore.
“We have achieved some good results in Rawalpindi, but the job is half done and our team understands that. We need to remain focused in Lahore, because all teams will be using the change of venue as an opportunity to regather and fill in the loopholes.”
Imam-ul-Haq said : “We may not have achieved the desired results in Rawalpindi, but we are optimistic about our chances in Lahore. Over the last few days, we have identified gaps in our game plan and we will be looking to fill them when we take the field on Wednesday.”
Sarfaraz Ahmed said : “The Rawalpindi-leg brought us good results and have put us in a good position for a place in the semi-finals. We cannot afford to be complacent as we still have a long way to go.
“The pitches in Lahore should provide more scoring opportunities to the batters and need to ensure that we make full use of the conditions. While our top-order has been delivering for us as Sharjeel and Khurram are both contributing, we need a bit more from our middle and lower order.”
Shadab Khan said : “The Rawalpindi-leg was hard fought as all six teams produced some good cricket. We have gathered eight points and are eyeing a semi-final spot now. We play fearless brand of cricket and it has worked well for us not only this year but in the last two editions too.”