KARACHI: Despite possessing a star-studded squad at their disposal in almost every tournament they had featured Karachi Dolphins have surprising not being able to lay hands on a T20 trophy.

After ending up as runners-up in four of the past 10 editions, the Dolphins enter the Haier T20 Cup with renewed vigour a day after their skipper Shahid Afridi was reappointed as Pakistan captain for the shortest format.

Tuesday’s announcement would definitely inspire Afridi as he and his team-mates bid to end the long wait of not winning the national title after their last tilt at the crown in 2010-11 was thwarted by current champions Lahore Lions at the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore.

The forthcoming tournament was originally scheduled to be played in Multan but owing to devastation caused by massive flooding in the Punjab forced the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to shift the event down south to the National Stadium here.

The diehard cricket buffs of Karachi have not seen their stars playing in front of them since 2011-12 when the popular event was held in this sprawling city of around 20 million that had also played hosts to national T20 event in 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2009-10.

In a pulsating final on that occasion, six-time champions Sialkot Stallions edged Rawalpindi Rams by 10 runs. That was ironically the last time the Shoaib Malik-led Stallions won the trophy. In the subsequent two editions the lions of Lahore roared to success under the leadership of Mohammad Hafeez, who had relinquished the national team’s T20 captaincy last April after Pakistan failed to reach the knockout phase for the first time in the ICC World Twenty20 history.

However, in a bizarre arrangement a second-string squad will be representing Lahore Lions in the national competition chiefly because of the first-choice team’s participation in the ongoing Champions League T20 in India where Hafeez’s charges have qualified for the main course after finishing second to New Zealand champions Northern Knights in the four-team qualifiers.

Thus the likes of Hafeez, Umar Akmal, Ahmed Shehzad, Wahab Riaz, Aizaz Cheema and Nasir Jamshed won’t be seen when the Lions begin their title defence from Sept 22 when Test batsman Azhar Ali leads the rather depleted side.

The decision of Saeed Ajmal, for obvious reasons, to skip the tournament has left Misbah-ul-Haq’s Faisalabad Wolves with little prospects of adding a second trophy after having clinched the inaugural one in 2004-05, although they were the beaten finalists when the tournament was staged in Rawalpindi last February.

The Stallions are the biggest sufferers of the PCB’s decision to hold the tournament at this point in time. They will sorely miss the calming influence that Shoaib Malik provides both as captain and batsman, Malik is on the Champions League T20 duty for the Hobart Hurricanes in the coming weeks.

Likewise, Yasir Arafat won’t be wearing the Rawalpindi Rams’ colours as he prepares to turn out for Australia’s domestic T20 champions Perth Scorchers in India.

Unlike the previous tournament, first-timers Azad Jammu Kashmir Jaguars will be the 18th regional outfit to be appearing in the national event. But like Larkana Bulls, Dera Murad Jamali Ibexes and Fata Cheetahs, they are here just to make the numbers.

The Bulls will not agree to this notion since they had the privilege of not only creating the biggest upset in the national T20 when they stunned Karachi Dolphins in Rawalpindi seventh months ago to reach the quarter-finals in their debut season.

This time, however, the PCB has done with the last-eight stage as only the four pool winners would progress directly into the semi-finals that would be played on Sept 27 with the final set for Sept 28 evening.

Pools:

Group ‘A’: Karachi Dolphins, Sialkot Stallions, Hyderabad Hawks, Quetta Bears, Larkana Bulls.

Group ‘B’: Karachi Zebras, Rawalpindi Rams, Multan Tigers, Fata Cheetahs.

Group ‘C’: Faisalabad Wolves, Lahore Eagles, Islamabad Leopards, Peshawar Panthers, Azad Jammu Kashmir Jaguars.

Group ‘D’: Lahore Lions, Abbottabad Falcons, Bahawalpur Stags, Dera Murad Jamali Ibexes.

Schedule:

Sept 17: Hyderabad Hawks vs Quetta Bears (9:00am); Rawalpindi Rams vs Fata Cheetahs (1:00pm); Karachi Dolphins vs Larkana Bulls (5:00pm); Karachi Zebras vs Multan Tigers (9:30pm).

Sept 18: Quetta Bears vs Larkana Bulls (12:00 noon); Karachi Zebras vs Fata Cheetahs (4:00pm); Sialkot Stallions (8:00pm).

Sept 19: Sialkot Stallions vs Larkana Bulls (10:00am); Multan Tigers vs Fata Cheetahs (4:00pm); Karachi Dolphins vs Quetta Bears (8:00pm).

Sept 20: Sialkot Stallions vs Quetta Bears (12:00 noon); Karachi Dolphins vs Hyderabad Hawks (4:00pm); Karachi Zebras vs Rawalpindi Rams (8:00pm).

Sept 21: Hyderabad Hawks vs Larkana Bulls (12:00 noon); Rawalpindi Rams vs Multan Tigers (4:00pm); Karachi Dolphins vs Sialkot Stallions (8:00pm).

Sept 22: Islamabad Leopards vs Azad Jammu Kashmir Jaguars (9:00am); Abbottabad Falcons vs Bahawalpur Stags (1:00pm); Lahore Lions vs Dera Murad Jamali Ibexes (5:00pm); Lahore Eagles vs Peshawar Panthers (9:00pm).

Sept 23: Bahawalpur Stags vs Dera Murad Jamali Ibexes (12:00 noon); Faisalabad Wolves vs Azad Jammu Kashmir Jaguars (4:00pm); Islamabad Leopards vs Peshawar Panthers (8:00pm).

Sept 24: Peshawar Panthers vs Azad Jammu Kashmir Jaguars (12:00 noon); Abbottabad Falcons vs Dera Murad Jamali Ibexes (4:00pm); Faisalabad Wolves vs Lahore Eagles (8:00pm).

Sept 25: Lahore Lions vs Bahawalpur Stags (12:00 noon); Faisalabad Wolves vs Peshawar Panthers (4:00pm); Lahore Eagles vs Islamabad Leopards (8:00pm).

Sept 26: Lahore Lions vs Abbottabad Falcons (10:00am); Lahore Eagles vs Azad Jammu Kashmir Jaguars (4:00pm); Faisalabad Wolves vs Islamabad Leopards (8:00pm).

Sept 27: First semi-final (Group ‘A’ winners vs Group ‘C’, 4:00pm); Second semi-final (Group ‘B’ winners vs Group ‘D’ winners, 8:00pm).

Sept 28: Final (7:00pm).

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2014

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