KARACHI: With Khyber Pakhtunkhwa having qualified for the final with 148 points, the rest of the title aspirants will be putting in their best to grab the remaining one spot as the tenth and final round of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy (first-class) begins at different venues here on Saturday (today).
Second-placed Southern Punjab (128 points), third-placed Northern (114) and fourth-placed Central Punjab (111) can grab the remaining one final spot of the country’s marquee domestic event.
Here at National Stadium, Northern will lock horns with KP. Since leading the six-team points table at the end of the sixth round, Northern have faced two defeats and drawn one match.
They will be eager to turn this fixture into a dress rehearsal for the final, a five-day affair, which will be played from January 1-5. If they are successful in making that happen, Northern will appear in the final for the second time in as many seasons.
Hammad Azam and Mohammad Nawaz, who are the fourth and fifth highest run-scorers in the tournament, lead Northern’s batting. Hammad has accumulated 808 runs at an average of 57.71 and Nawaz has made 678 runs, averaging 52.15.
Captain Nauman Ali continues to spearhead the bowling unit. The 34-year-old left-arm spinner is the top wicket-taker in the season with 61 scalps at 21.79 runs per dismissal and has the most (six) five-wicket hauls. He is the only bowler from his team to feature in the list of top 10 wicket-takers.
KP missed out on playing the final in the 2019-20 edition by a mere six points, but this season, under their head coach Abdul Razzaq, they have become the first team to secure a final berth and have the most wins for a team in the season (five) to date.
Kamran Ghulam’s phenomenal form with the bat has been vital behind their success this season. The 25-year-old right-handed batsman has scored 907 runs at an average of 56.69 and has made three centuries and as many half-centuries from nine matches. He is the only batsman to breach the 900-run mark so far.
Off-spinner Sajid Khan has been instrumental in dismantling the opposition batting line-ups. With 56 wickets at an average of 24.98, he is the second highest wicket-taker.
Here at SBP Ground, Central Punjab take on Southern Punjab. Defending champions Central Punjab have staged a remarkable comeback, which has seen them rise from the bottom of the points table and become serious contenders to play their second consecutive final.
The first-leg game between these two teams ended in a draw.
Central Punjab’s batsmen Mohammad Saad, Qasim Akram, Saad Nasim and Usman Salahuddin have picked up the form at a crucial juncture of the season. Saad followed up his first innings century with a half-century in the last match, while the others scored half-centuries.
Qasim, who featured in the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup earlier in the year, also made a notable contribution with the ball as his off-spin earned him his maiden five-wicket haul in the drawn contest against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He also scored a valuable fifty in the second innings.
Southern Punjab were off to a perfect start in the season as they led the points table for the first five rounds before they slipped to third place following a defeat to Northern by six wickets. However, two wins in the last three matches have gained them back the desired rhythm ahead of the all-important tenth round match.
Their captain Umar Siddiq will be hoping that their most prolific bowler Zahid Mahmood continues to bamboozle the batsmen with his leg-spin. The 33-year-old is the side’s leading wicket-taker with 48 scalps in nine matches.
Salman Ali Agha has been anchoring Southern Punjab’s batting unit as he has made two centuries and five half-centuries and has 817 runs in the season, the third most.
Here at UBL Sports Complex hosts Sindh (85 points) will face Balochistan (102 points). Balochistan, who finished last in the previous season, are 17 points ahead of Sindh.
Balochistan enter the contest following a commanding win over Northern thanks to Kashif Bhatti, who recorded a first innings five-wicket haul to reduce the opposition to 203.
Kashif, the left-arm orthodox, is the side’s top wicket-taker with 28 victims and seventh on the overall list and he is followed by pacer Taj Wali (25 wickets at 29.16).
Akbar-ur-Rehman, with 563 runs at 43.31, is their top batsman in the season.
Though Sindh have not been up to the mark, their players have produced some extraordinary individual performances. With 871 runs at an average of more than 58, 25-year-old Saud Shakeel is the second best batsman in the season. The list of top 10 batsmen includes Sindh’s Sharjeel Khan (634 runs at 48.77) at seven and their captain Asad Shafiq (605 at 46.54) at nine.
Veteran pacer Tabish Khan has 27 scalps and is the eighth best bowler in the season to date, while the rise of 22-year-old Shahnawaz Dhani and leg-spinner Abrar Ahmed has not only impressed the followers of the game, but it augurs well for Sindh in the coming seasons.
Sindh have won only one match, against Central Punjab in their season opener.
Source: The News