By our correspondent
KARACHI: With Mohammad Rizwan and Shaheen Afridi not available for selection, the last season’s pole-position finishers Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are set to face Northern in the five-day final of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy 2021-2022 which will be played with the pink ball here at the National Stadium from Saturday (today).
The match starts at 2pm.
The National Stadium staged the dramatic finale of the previous season between Central Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which ended in a tie. Another absorbing final between two balanced and well matched sides is expected from Saturday. After an action packed Karachi-leg of Pakistan’s premier first-class tournament, Northern and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa edged out Sindh to claim the top two spots in the six team points table.
Northern topped the table with 152 points from 10 matches (four wins, four draws, two defeats). Khyber Pakhtunkhwa sealed the second spot with a tally of 150 points from their 10 games (four wins, five draws, one defeat). Sindh who were on top of the points table leading into the last two rounds, lost their way at the end and despite winning their 10th and final fixture against Southern Punjab finished with 143 points (four wins, five draws, one defeat).
The tournament came to life in the Karachi-leg after the Punjab-leg produced a single result in the first 15 matches. Conversely, 14 out of the 15 matches played across three Karachi venues –NBP Sports Complex, State Bank Stadium and UBL Sports Complex, produced results as the teams fought tooth and nail for securing the two final spots.
“We have peaked at the right time and due to an all-round effort secured a spot in the final. I have been hugely impressed by the fight shown by our young players in the final few rounds which resulted in us topping the table. The pink-ball final though will be a different challenge for players from both sides with conditions expected to change especially under the lights,” Northern skipper Nauman Ali said.
“However, I am confident that we possess the skills and the depth in our squad to compete at our best against a formidable side like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa captain Iftikhar Ahmed: “This year’s tournament has proven to be as competitive as the previous two editions in the revamped domestic system. I am really pleased about our performances and how we have managed to secure a place in the final despite stiff competition. Our batters and bowlers have done admirably and raised the level of their game especially in the Karachi-leg which has produced results in almost every game.
“The pink-ball under the lights will be a big challenge for both sides and it in a way even things out. It is a bit of an unknown for both set of players so I feel the first two days will be crucial for both teams as they will seek to gain early advantage. I have full confidence in my players and I think they will rise up to the challenge as we seek our fifth consecutive domestic title across the three formats.”
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa owe much of their top order and batting success to opener Sahibzada Farhan who presently occupies the number one spot in the run scorers chart with an impressive 924-run tally at 57.75 (three centuries, five half-centuries).
If Farhan manages to score 76 more runs in the final, he will achieve the 1000-run milestone for the season. Northern’s Mohammad Huraira has had a dream start to his first-class career, the 19-year-old right-hander who represented Pakistan in last year’s U19 World Cup in South Africa, has amassed 878 runs (three centuries, three half-centuries) in his debut season including a sensational 311 against Balochistan in the 10th and final round.
Huraira currently occupies the second spot behind Farhan, Southern Punjab’s Tayyab Tahir finished the tournament with 811 runs at 47.71. Amongst the bowlers, Southern Punjab’s left-arm-spinner Ali Usman finished with 43 wickets and is likely to finish as the top wicket-taker of the season.
Usman is followed by Central Punjab’s pacer Mohammad Ali and Sindh’s seasoned fast bowler Sohail Khan with 32 and 30 wickets respectively. Between the two finalists, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa pacer Sameen Gul is the leading wicket-taker with 29. Northern’s promising all-rounder Mubasir Khan has taken 25 wickets. The winners will be handed a hefty amount of Rs10million with the runners-up to go away with Rs5million. Similarly Rs500, 000 each will be given away to the best batsman, best bowler, best wicket-keeper and player of the event. The man of the final will get richer by Rs50,000. Asif Yaqoob and Faisal Afridi will supervise the match while Rashid Riaz will be the television umpire and Imtiaz Iqbal, the reserve umpire. Nadeem Arshad will act as match referee.