Karachi’s National Stadium ready to welcome Quaid-e-Azam Trophy
Karachi’s National Stadium will stage its opening Quaid-e-Azam Trophy fixture this season when Sindh will host Northern in the seventh-round action of the four-day first-class tournament on Monday.
Sindh and Northern are placed fifth and sixth, respectively on the points table and will be aiming to collect maximum points to stay alive in the tournament. The fact that this fixture will also be live-streamed on the PCB’s YouTube channel, adds further spice to the contest.
Sindh are yet to record their maiden first-class win and the Sarfaraz Ahmed-led unit will look to make the most of their home conditions to achieve it.
Looking ahead to the fixture, Sindh captain Sarfaraz Ahmed said: “Our team is in good shape. It is just we haven’t been able to register a win in the tournament yet. Two of our matches were affected by rain and ended as draws so we are eyeing victories in the remaining matches to consolidate our position on the points table.”
Northern, the only team to have suffered two defeats to date, will hope that traveling to the port-city will bring a change in their fortunes.
In the last round, Northern suffered a heavy 204-run defeat at the hands of table-toppers Central Punjab at Faisalabad’s Iqbal Stadium in a contest which was dominated by the spinners.
For Northern, Nauman Ali starred with 11 wickets in the contest. The left-arm spinner went on to record the best innings figures for this tournament with eight for 71.
Nauman Ali, who has 27 scalps in five matches, said: “I am enjoying bowling with the Kookaburras as it allows spinners to bowl longer spells. I have been putting in a lot effort in my bowling and aim to finish as the highest wicket-taker.”
“It is easier to grip Kookaburra when it is new and provides bounce to the spinners. But as it gets older, a lot of effort has to be exerted with the finger. With this ball, you have to adapt with the changing conditions which will prove to be beneficial for the spinners to prepare for Test cricket.”
Central Punjab v Balochistan
After consolidating their position at the top of the points table with a win over Northern, Central Punjab host Balochistan at Gaddafi Stadium as red-ball action returns to Pakistan’s home of cricket.
This will be the second meeting of the season between the two sides. Balochistan hosted Central Punjab in the third-round of the ongoing tournament at Quetta’s Bugti Stadium in which the tourists recorded a thumping win with a margin of an innings and 12 runs.
Balochistan, thanks to young all-rounder Hussain Talat, edged out in securing a draw from a precarious situation in their last round match against Southern Punjab at Bugti Stadium
After being asked to follow-on by Southern Punjab, Balochistan had half of their batting line-up back in the pavilion with just 44 runs on board with a 163-run trail to surmount.
Hussain scored a valiant 167-ball 136 – his maiden century in first-class cricket – to save his side from a certain defeat. He had fallen 11 runs short of a hundred in the previous innings.
Reflecting on the match, Hussain Talat said: “I am feeling very happy after scoring my first century in first-class cricket. I was a bit disappointed to have missed out on it in the first innings.
“As a player you have to keep going. The pitch was a bit difficult, but my plan was to bat till the end and punish bad deliveries. I had a decent National T20 Cup and this innings has provided me confidence. I aim to build on this innings in the remaining matches and end the first-class season on a high note.”
Central Punjab’s Zafar Gohar is the other in-form spinner and left a mark in the Faisalabad match. The left-arm spinner took 11 wickets, which included a seven for 79 in the second innings. The 24-year-old now has the most wickets in the tournament with 28 scalps at 25.50 runs a piece in six matches.
Zafar Gohar said: “There was pressure on me to win the match with my bowling as the pitch was providing assistance to the spinners. So, when I got the ball in my hand, I bowled challenging lines and lengths which brought me wickets.
“It is certainly a great feeling to be leading the wicket-takers’ chart as it underscores the efforts one has put in during the off-season. My ultimate objective is to finish the tournament as the highest wicket-taker. I have broken it down into smaller goals. I am taking one match at a moment and playing according to the situation and conditions on offer.”
Khyber Pakhtunkwa v Southern Punjab
Third positioned Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will hope rain doesn’t play spoilsport in their upcoming fixture against Southern Punjab, who are second on the points table and are the only other side than Central Punjab to have won a match this season, at the picturesque Abbottabad Cricket Stadium.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa head coach Kabir Khan said: “We got into strong positions in three out of six of our matches. But, where we have not won any match yet, it is a good sign that we haven’t lost any either.
“The tournament is in a critical stage now and the teams who control their nerves will succeed as every point has become crucial. We are looking to bag maximum points even if our next game ends in another draw. So, we get a boost when we win.
“The weather has gotten cold in Abbottabad and the pitch has gotten greener. So, the conditions are conducive to fast-bowling. We will be relying on our pace duo of Usman Shinwari and Junaid Khan to get us wickets as winning first-class matches demand bagging all 20 wickets.”
Southern Punjab enter the contest at the back of strong show at Quetta’s Bugti Stadium. Sami Aslam and Umar Siddique scored solid centuries in their 283-run stand for the first-wicket and pacers Umaid Asif and Rahat Ali registered five-fers.
Abdul Rehman, the head coach of Southern Punjab, said: “It is going to be a good contest against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as they have young cricketers who have done well in all departments.
“We were on the verge of securing a win in our last match against Balochistan. We dominated the contest for three days but made a few mistakes on the last day. We will make sure that those mistakes are not repeated again and win the upcoming match so we further consolidate our position and secure a berth in the final.”
Seventh round fixtures (11-14 November)
Central Punjab v Balochistan, Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore
Sindh v Northern, National Stadium, Karachi
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa v Southern Punjab, Abbottabad Cricket Stadium