LAHORE: Domestic red-ball cricket resumes on Monday, 28 October, when the fifth-round action of the four-day first-class Quaid-e-Azam Trophy commences at three centres, said a press release by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).
To provide context to domestic cricket, the PCB had split the country’s premier event into two phases to create a window for the National T20 Cup ahead of the Pakistan national men’s team’s tour of Australia, which gets underway in Sydney on Sunday with first of the three T20Is.
With Pakistan scheduled to play two World Test Championship matches against Australia Down Under from 21 November, this round serves as a crucial opportunity to furnish red-ball skills to the players named for the series. The Australia-bound players making their final appearance in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy include Abid Ali (Sindh), Asad Shafiq (Sindh), Azhar Ali (Central Punjab), Kashif Bhatti (Sindh), Naseem Shah (Central Punjab), Shan Masood (Southern Punjab) and Yasir Shah (Balochistan).
Northern’s Shaheen Shah Afridi, who has also been named in the Test side, will continue his rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy and resume bowing in Australia.
Pakistan Test captain Azhar Ali will be in action at Iqbal Stadium, Faisalabad, as table-toppers Central Punjab face Sindh, who are sitting in fourth position. As Azhar will not be available to lead Central Punjab for rest of the competition, the team management has handed leadership responsibilities to Ahmed Shehzad, who was originally named as vice-captain.
Central Punjab are the only side to have recorded two wins in the ongoing event – both by innings’ margins.
Central Punjab would also be hoping that their spin duo of Zafar Gohar and Bilal Asif continue from where it left two weeks ago. With 14 wickets, left-arm spinner Zafar is the second highest wicket-taker this tournament, while Bilal is third on the list with 13 scalps.
Central Punjab also boasts one of the three batsmen to have scored a double-century this season in Salman Butt, who cracked 237 against Balochistan in Quetta in his side’s victory by an innings and 12 runs.
In Abid Ali, Sindh possess an opener with a double-century this tournament. The right-handed batsman cracked an unbeaten 249 in his side’s opening match against Balochistan in Karachi.
Sindh will be pinning their hopes on Abid and Omair Bin Yousuf, who has 297 runs in five innings at an average of 74.25, to provide them the impetus with the bat to register their first win of the tournament, while Kashif Bhatti, named for Australia Tests, will be a bowler to watch out as his left-arm spin has accounted for 10 scalps in three innings.
The fifth-round of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy will also see Sialkot host first-class cricket after the gap of a season when Shan Masood-led Southern Punjab take on Umar Amin’s Northern.
Southern is the other team to have won a match this tournament with their win over Sindh at UBL Sports Complex in the last round. They are ranked second on the points table.
On the other hand, it is a woe-galore for Northern. The National T20 champions are languishing at the bottom of the points table. There, however, have been silver linings for them this tournament with their younger players putting up impressive performances.
With 383 runs at an average of 54.71, 19-year-old Haider Ali, Pakistan U19 opener, is Northern’s top-scorer, and third in the list of overall run-getters in this tournament.
With 14 dismissals behind the stumps, Rohail Nazir has the joint-most dismissals for a wicketkeeper with Central Punjab’s Kamran Akmal.
Quetta’s Bugti Stadium will host its third four-day match of the season with hosts Balochistan taking on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Both teams will be without their regular captains who will be in Australia by the time the match commences. Imran Farhat will lead Balochistan in Haris Sohail’s absence, while Sahibzada Farhan will fill-in Mohammad Rizwan’s shoes.
All eyes in this competition will be on Balochistan’s Yasir Shah, who leads the highest wicket-takers’ chart with 15 scalps and has a final go in competitive red-ball cricket ahead of Australia Tests, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Ashfaq Ahmed, the highest run-getter of the tournament with 473 runs at a staggering average of 157.66.
This match will be live-streamed on the PCB’s YouTube channel.
Fifth round fixtures
Balochistan v Khyber Pakhunkhwa, Bugti Stadium, Quetta
Central Punjab v Sindh, Iqbal Stadium, Faisalabad
Southern Punjab v Norther, Jinnah Stadium, Sialkot