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LAHORE: Pakistan’s best domestic white-ball cricketers will be in action from tomorrow as Kingdom Valley National T20 Cup 2022-23 kicks off in Rawalpindi. The 33-match tournament is a curtain raiser for the 2022-23 men’s domestic cricket season and will be followed by Quaid-e-Azam Trophy (first-class) and Pakistan Cup (one-day).
The Kingdom Valley National T20 Cup 2022-23 will be played in two legs. Rawalpindi’s Pindi Cricket Stadium will host the first 16 matches till 7 September and then the action will move to Multan Cricket Stadium, where the remaining matches will be played from 10-19 September.
Led by Khalid Usman, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the defending champions, will enter the tournament with the mission of securing a hat-trick of titles after winning the 2020-21 and 2021-22 editions. They have won 15 of their last 24 matches and begin their campaign on 31 August when they play Central Punjab.
Khalid Usman: “There is a little pressure when you are defending the title, but, thankfully, we have a good unit that has all the potential to do the job. The atmosphere in the team is great. My message to my boys is to play fearless, positive cricket and give their 110 per cent. The new structure and introduction of CCA and divisional cricket in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has helped a great deal in nurturing the young cricketers in our region.”
Balochistan enter the tournament with confidence as they ended the previous season on a high by winning the Pakistan Cup. Since playing the final of the 2019-20 edition of the tournament, Balochistan have failed to make it to the semi-finals and that’s what they would look to change when they face-off Central Punjab on the opening day of the tournament under the captaincy of Yasir Shah.
Yasir Shah: “We are looking forward to carry the momentum from the Pakistan Cup. Our youngsters – Haseebullah and Abdul Wahid Bangalzai – were terrific in that tournament, and I am sure they will continue their form. We have a good T20 side and our players have been doing well in different leagues recently.”
Central Punjab faced a defeat to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Lahore last season, thanks to Iftikhar Ahmed’s whirlwind 19-ball 45 not out, in the final. It was the first instance of the side making it to the final after they failed to qualify for the semi-finals in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 editions. All-rounder Faheem Ashraf leads them this season.
Faheem Ashraf: “To captain Central Punjab is surely an honour because it is the biggest region in the country. It is a dream to lead or represent Punjab or Central Punjab. To thrive in T20 competitions, it is important to come together as a unit and develop good combinations from the onset, so we are looking to do that.”
Northern were champions of the first National T20 played following the revamp of the domestic structure. They lifted the trophy at Iqbal Stadium, Faisalabad, by thumping Balochistan in the final. They have been one of the most consistent teams in the tournament, making it to the semi-finals in the last two editions. Under the captaincy of Umar Amin, their aim must be to start good at their home, Rawalpindi, and go the distance when the tournament moves to Multan.
Umar Amin: “It is always fun to play at my hometown and leading Northern in this tournament has doubled my excitement. Our team has a good combination of youth and experience. The youngsters are quite energetic. We made some mistakes at crunch moments in the last two editions because of which we could not play the final. This time, I hope, we will not repeat them.”
Southern Punjab had a last-minute change of guard after Hasan Ali was called up to the national side for the ongoing ACC T20 Asia Cup. All-rounder Salman Ali Agha, who made his Test and ODI debuts recently, has been handed the reins in the absence of the star pacer. Southern Punjab had a memorable 2020-21 campaign in which they fell 10 runs short of winning the title, but showed great grit and determination in making it to the final. Sohaib Maqsood’s stunning 81 off 29 scripted an epic run chase when they scaled the 162-run target in 10.4 overs against Balochistan to secure a spot in the semi-final, where they beat Northern by seven wickets. They couldn’t make it to the last four in the previous edition and will be hoping to stage a resounding comeback.
Zain Abbas (Southern Punjab vice-captain): “This is a very important tournament for every domestic cricketer. We have prepared well for it and are coming into this tournament with a passion to do well as we have not won a major tournament for Southern Punjab yet. We want to win this tournament.”
Sindh, led by Saud Shakeel, play the first match of the Kingdom Valley National T20 Cup 2022-23 when they take on Southern Punjab tomorrow. Following a lacklustre 2019-20 edition, Sindh have made it to the top four and played semi-finals in the last two tournaments.
Saud Shakeel: “It is an honour for me to be captaining Sindh. Our strength is our good combination: we have good spinners, we have hard-hitting openers, Sharjeel being one of them, and we have sloggers in the middle-order. Hopefully, we will do well in this tournament.”
To ensure the players participating in the tournament get their due share of exposure and the fans get to enjoy the action-packed matches, the double-headers from 30 August till 11 September have been scheduled in a manner that they do not clash with the ACC Asia Cup T20.
The first match of the day will commence on 0930 and the second will begin at 1400. From 12 September, the first of the two matches will start at 1500, while the second will begin at 1930.
Sindh second XI’s Sohail Khan has replaced Rumman Raees following an injury to the latter. Asif Ali comes in the second XI team
Cricket Associations T20
The Cricket Associations T20 has been moved to Faisalabad following unprecedented rains-led logistical challenges and the tournament will now be played at the Iqbal Stadium from 6-23 September.