Quaid-i-Azam Trophy final between Southern, Northern Punjab starts today

7

 

Staff Report

Lahore

Fresh after their historic Test series win against Sri Lanka in Karachi, Pakistan cricket stars will be in action in the final of the first-class Quaid-e-Azam Trophy tournament between Central Punjab and Northern which commences from Friday 27 December at the National Stadium, Karachi.

The return of Pakistan Test captain Azhar Ali and premier middle-order batsman and Central Punjab’s captain Babar Azam bolster Central Punjab, while the comeback of Pakistan U19 captain Rohail Nazir and top-order batsman Haider Ali strengthen the Northern side.

The final of Pakistan’s premier domestic competition, will be a five-day affair.

The contest not only provides an opportunity to both sides to get hold of the prestigious silverware but will also help them make history by being the first winners of the revamped tournament. The winner will also pocket a hefty PKR10m prize money. The runners-up will bag PKR5m.

The two sides have had an intriguing journey this season and were separated by three points on the table.  Central Punjab finished on top with 133 points, while Northern, with 130 points, ended the group-stage at number two.

When the two teams meet on Friday, Northern will be eyeing revenge as two out of Central Punjab’s three wins this tournament came against them.

What will add spice to this most-anticipated battle is that the contest will be telecasted live on Ten Sports and PTV Sports.

From the onset of the first-class Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Central Punjab established themselves as strong contenders to secure a berth in the final.

Though their journey started off with a draw in a Punjab Derby at Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, their points tally got a massive boost in the next two rounds on the back of comprehensive wins.

They rolled over Northern by an innings and 100 runs at Iqbal Stadium, Faisalabad in the second round and outplayed Balochistan, at their home, in the third round to record a victory with a margin of an innings and 12 runs.

In their third win of the season, they beat Northern, this time by a margin of 205 runs, in Faisalabad in the seventh round.

Central Punjab have lost only one match this tournament, against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by 211 runs at NBP Sports Complex, Karachi, in the ninth-round.

Kamran Akmal and Salman Butt, second and fourth on the highest run-getters charts, have been instrumental in ensuring their side’s success with the bat.

Kamran has scored 865 runs with the help of three centuries and three half-centuries and he averages 61.79 in 14 innings. The 38-year-old has not only stamped his authority with the bat but has also been at the forefront of his side’s success with the gloves with 35 dismissals – the most in the tournament.

Left-handed opener Salman Butt has struck three centuries – including a double-century – and two half-centuries in his 827 runs at an average of 75.18.

With the ball, their spin-duo of Zafar Gohar and Bilal Asif, second and third on the list of highest wicket-takers, have been the major tormentors. Left-arm orthodox Zafar has taken 38 wickets, while off-spinner Bilal has 32 scalps to his name.

Central Punjab captain Babar Azam said: “The first-class Quaid-e-Azam Trophy is a prestigious tournament for the country and has a great significance in our domestic cricket as it serves as a nursery for Test cricketers.

“We are very happy to be in the final and look to stretch our match-winning form into this contest. I missed some domestic matches because of the national duty but it was heartening to see the progress that our side made over the course of the tournament.

“Our batting is our main strength and I am looking forward to contribute for Central Punjab after scoring a hundred against Sri Lanka at the same venue.

“It is certainly going to be an exciting contest and from what I have seen in the camp, our all players are charged up for it.”

Northern languished at the bottom of the points table for the first half of the tournament but traveling to Karachi in the sixth round brought a much-desired change in their fortunes.

They recorded their first win of the tournament against Sindh at the National Stadium and took the tally of wins to three in the ninth and tenth rounds by securing wins over Balochistan by eight wickets and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by 39 runs at UBL Sports Complex.

Their captain Nauman Ali, the top wicket-taker in the tournament, has spearheaded his side’s epic turnover. His left-arm spin has garnered 52 wickets at an average of 22.85. He has recorded as many as five five-wicket hauls this season and has the best strike-rate (42.60) amongst the top ten wicket-takers.

Northern’s Zeeshan Malik and Faizan Riaz are amongst the seven batsmen to have scored double-centuries this season. The two lead the batting charts for their side with Zeeshan being the leading run scorer from his side with 726 runs at an average of 55.85, while Faizan has 719 runs at an average of 71.90.

Top-order batsman Umar Amin has the third most runs for Northern. The 30-year-old has made 595 runs – which include a century and three half-centuries – across 10 matches.

Northern captain Nauman Ali said: “We are geared up for the final. There won’t be any such pressure on us against Central Punjab in the final. We have been involved in high pressure matches throughout our journey so we are aware how we have to handle the tough situations.

“Our batting has done well with the likes of Zeeshan Malik and Faizan Riaz as both of the batsmen have scored double centuries. In the middle-order we have the experience of Umar Amin, Hammad Azam and Ali Sarfaraz.

“I have had a good run this tournament with the ball and I am looking forward to lead my side from the front in the bowling department. We will also have Musa Khan available for the final and he will be joined by Waqas Malik, who has done well throughout the season. We have high expectations from both of them. The presence of senior pacers like Sadaf Hussain and Sohail Tanvir further bolsters our bowling department.

“Our team has a good blend of youth and experience which makes it a complete unit. I am hopeful that we will do well in the final.”