By Sohail Ali
LAHORE, Sep 23 (APP): An action-packed domestic cricket season 2020-21 is set to commence with the National T20 Cup for First XIs at the Multan Cricket Stadium in a week’s time. The tournament promises to provide rich entertainment to cricket fans with the presence of the cream of Pakistan T20 stars. Besides the established names of the shortest format of the game, the tournament also includes some exciting young talent in each of the six teams. The youngsters featuring for their respective teams can use the platform to stake a claim in the men’s national team for the limited overs series against Zimbabwe and impress franchise owners ahead of the HBL Pakistan Super League 2021 Player Draft, which will be held in November.
Head coaches of the six participating teams – Balochistan, Central Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Northern, Sindh and Southern Punjab – have each named one player from their side with the potential of making a big impact in the tournament, which will be played in double-league format for the first time. Balochistan – Akif Javed:
Balochistan Head Coach Faisal Iqbal has named left-arm fast bowler Akif Javed as a player with immense potential who has the opportunity to further build his growing reputation. The Kohat-born pacer represented Islamabad United in the HBL PSL 2020 and played for Balochistan in last year’s National T20 Cup First XI tournament. The 19-year-old has picked 13 wickets in as many T20 games with a best return of three for 16.
Faisal Iqbal said : “Akif is an exceptional talent and we want to provide him a real opportunity of expressing his skills for which the management will fully back him. We will have a strategy in place for him and utilise his services accordingly. Akif can learn a lot in the entire season starting with the National T20 Cup in the company of two seasoned fast bowlers Umar Gul and Umaid Asif who can surely mentor him and help him further his skills which can in turn help his growth as a future prospect.”
Central Punjab – Qasim Akram:
Central Punjab Head Coach Shahid Anwar has backed the young and upcoming all-rounder Qasim Akram who left an impression with his all-round abilities and exceptional fielding in the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup 2020, which was played in South Africa.
The 17-year-old provided a glimpse of his potential by scoring 54 off 50 to rescue Pakistan U19 from a difficult position against Zimbabwe in an U19 World Cup group match and took two wickets with his off-spin bowling in a miserly 10-over spell which took Pakistan to victory.
Shahid made the call to select Qasim in the Central Punjab squad for the National T20 Cup and he feels that the youngster has a very bright future ahead of him. Shahid Anwar said : “Qasim is an extremely talented cricketer. I picked him in the side based on his impressive performances in the U19 World Cup and the recommendations of the Pakistan U19 head coach Ijaz Ahmed. I feel he can turn into a future star if he continues to make progress and adds more skills to his game. The T20 format is not easy to cope with as it brings a lot of pressure on the players but at the same time it provides great learning experiences and opportunities which someone like Qasim can grab on.
“I will be backing Qasim to play his natural game and not take any unnecessary pressure in the tournament.” Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Mohammad Mohsin:
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Head Coach Abdul Razzaq is backing leg-spinner Mohammad Mohsin as one of the players to watch out at the National T20 Cup. The 24-year-old Mohsin has already represented Pakistan Emerging team and is widely tipped as a bright prospect.
In 15 T20 matches, Mohsin who is representing Peshawar Zalmi in the HBL PSL 2020, has 14 wickets besides 120 runs with the bat which includes a best of 35 not out. Razzaq wants Mohsin to develop all-round batting skills and has been working on his batting in the lead-up to the tournament.
Abdul Razzaq said : “Mohsin is a talented cricketer and besides his leg-spin, batting comes naturally to him. I have been working hard with him in the nets and want to help him develop into an all-rounder with the ability to hit big. His height is a massive advantage for him as a leg-spinner and Mushtaq Ahmed has been helping him to develop his game. I would like to see Mohsin make it big in his career and represent Pakistan, for which the National T20 Cup provides him the perfect opportunity.”
Northern – Zeeshan Malik:
Northern Head Coach Mohammad Wasim is backing top-order batsman Zeeshan Malik to leave a mark in the six-team tournament. The 23-year-old Zeeshan has graduated from the Northern Second XI side and he possesses all the skills and shots to thrive at this level.
Zeeshan hit a blazing 216 for Northern in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy first-class event last season and Wasim believes the stroke maker can turn it on in T20 cricket as well.
Mohammad Wasim said : “Zeeshan is a very impressive batsman; he is one of those players who are a treat to watch when in full flow. His strength is his cut shot. Last year, he was unfortunate to miss out on representing us in the National T20 Cup but this year he has the opportunity to impress when he takes the field. Since the tournament is being played on a double-league format, Zeeshan should get the opportunities to express his talent and make a name in the shortest format of the game. I really hope he can make them count and further develop as a player with a bright future ahead of him.”
Sindh – Azam Khan:
Sindh Head Coach Basit Ali is backing the big-hitting potential of Azam Khan who made a real impact in the HBL PSL 2020 for Quetta Gladiators. The right-hander played two match winning innings for his franchise in the tournament, scoring 59 off 33 balls in the tournament opener against Islamabad United at the National Stadium Karachi before taking apart the home side Karachi Kings at the same venue with a dashing 46 off 30 balls.
Basit feels Azam is a match winner with enormous potential and he would be backing him to deliver the goods for Sindh at the National T20 Cup. Basit Ali said : “I saw him bat in the nets during our training session and I am really impressed by his talent. Azam has the ability to turn a game at any juncture with his big-hitting prowess. My aim would be to offer Azam a platform where he can deliver with an uncluttered mind while focusing on performing to the best of his ability. As a coach, I would be thoroughly backing him since I feel he has a bright future ahead of him and this tournament provides him the opportunity to further improve his game.”
Southern Punjab – Zeeshan Ashraf:
Southern Punjab Head Coach Abdur Rehman has named left-handed opener and wicketkeeper Zeeshan Ashraf as a player who can make a big impact for his side at the National T20 Cup.
The 28-year-old Zeeshan was the top-scorer in last year’s National T20 Cup for Second XIs where his big hitting abilities were noticed by the First XI team management. Zeeshan graduated to first-class cricket where his impressive showing earned him a place in the Multan Sultans’ HBL PSL 2020 squad.
He scored two half-centuries for Sultans and ahead of the Play-Off round of the tournament (to be played at the Gaddafi Stadium in November); Zeeshan has the perfect opportunity to warm-up for the task. Abdur Rehman said : “Zeeshan has all the skills and talent that constitute a good player.
After playing for Sultans in the HBL PSL 2020, he has progressed further and has learned so much more about the requirements at the top-level. He would be high on confidence and I really hope he takes that confidence in the National T20 Cup. In the past year, he has made remarkable progress and has proven to be a genuine product of the system. This tournament can be another important milestone in his development as a player and the Southern Punjab management would be providing him the backing he needs.”