KARACHI: Eyeing the top two spots, the outfits will be putting their best to extract maximum points as the penultimate round of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy (first-class) begins here at different venues of Karachi on Sunday (today).
At National Stadium, holders Central Punjab will face leaders Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The two teams are enjoying an impressive run of form as they enter the match on the back of three consecutive wins.
KP, with their last win over Southern Punjab by ten wickets, consolidated their position at the top of the six-team points table and enjoy a 29-point lead over second-placed Northern.
Their success has been built around solid contributions from Kamran Ghulam and Sajid Khan and their captain Khalid Usman will be hoping that their purple patch stretches into the upcoming round.
Kamran, a right-handed batsman, leads the chart for the batsmen with most runs this season with 873 runs at an average of over 62. He is the only batsman to date to cross the 800-run mark. All of his three centuries have come in the past three matches.
Off-spinner Sajid has taken 15 wickets in the last two matches, which include a second innings five-wicket haul against Sindh and a first-innings five-wicket haul against Southern Punjab.
After remaining at the bottom of the points table for the first half of the tournament, title defenders Central Punjab have staged an astonishing comeback, which has turned them into a formidable force. Their captain Hasan Ali has been at the forefront of the resurgence with 22 wickets and a blistering 50 not out in the three victories.
Pacer Waqas Maqsood — the leading wicket-taker amongst the pacers with 34 scalps at 20.62 — and Ahmed Safi Abdullah (28 wickets at 24.14) have duly supported their skipper.
Ali Zaryab became the only Central Punjab batsman this season to register a century and the side will be pinning their hopes on the opener along with Usman Salahuddin, a 30-year-old middle-order batsman, who is the team’s leading run-scorer with 525 runs from eight matches.
At UBL Sports Complex, second-placed Northern take on Balochistan. Nauman Ali-captained Northern enter the ninth round of the tournament on the back of splendid batting performances by 18-year-old Mubasir Khan and all-rounder Hammad Azam which helped them retain the second spot on the points table and stay in contention for the final spot.
Northern are certain to derive inspiration from the resilient 294-run alliance which ensured that their eighth round fixture against Sindh ended in a draw as Mubasir registered a valiant 164 on debut and Hammad, the tournament’s second best run-scorer, scored his second century of the season.
Nauman, himself, remains their primary bowling weapon. With 55 wickets, which include five five-fers, he is the leading wicket-taker in the season.
Over the course of the last two rounds, Balochistan have slipped to the bottom of the points table from the fourth spot. After finishing the last season at the bottom of the points table, they will be hoping for a change of fortune starting this fixture. Since their win in the opening match, Balochistan have lost four and drawn three.
Left-arm spinner Jalat Khan is their leading wicket-taker with 24 dismissals, while Akbar-ur-Rehman has been their chief accumulator of runs as the 37-year-old has made 481 runs from six matches.
At SBP Ground, Sindh will lock horns with Southern Punjab. Asad Shafiq-led Sindh started the last day of the previous round as favourites to win their second match of the season only to be denied by the gutsy knocks from Northern’s Mubasir and Hammad.
The draw helped them climb one spot to number five, but it is the crucial 16 points for win which they will be hoping to bag when their fixture against Southern Punjab begins.
Saud Shakeel continues to have an impressive run with the bat as the 25-year-old has piled up 738 runs — third most in the season.
Sindh’s batting unit has been bolstered by the return to form of Sharjeel Khan, seventh in the list of the highest run-getters, and Asad. Since earning a promotion in the First XI team, Shahnawaz Dhani has produced brilliant bowling spells, grabbing 20 wickets at 30.35 in five matches. The 22-year-old is yet to record a five-fer at the first-class level, something he will be hoping to check in the upcoming match.
Southern Punjab were at the end of a 10-wicket pounding from table-toppers Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in their last outing. They were forced to follow-on after which they just managed to avoid an innings defeat.
Leggie Zahid Mahmood, however, continued to live up to the expectations as he returned yet another five-wicket haul with six for 163. The 32-year-old Dadu-born, who has the third-most scalps this season, will continue to spearhead his team’s bowling attack.
Defiant fifties from Aamer Yamin (first innings 93) and Mohammad Umair (second innings 77) promise support for Salman Ali Agha, who is their team’s top-scorer with 716 runs at just under 60.
Source: The News