KARACHI: After rather two docile semi-finals, the stage is now set for an electrifying One-day Departmental Cup title-decider between arguably the best two sides when United Bank Limited (UBL) clash with Wapda here on Sunday.
The final itself will be a big test for the UBL Sports Complex, which would be hosting potentially its biggest fixture since the touring Sri Lankans played a one-day practice match to kickstart their Pakistan tour in early 2000.
With the game to be televised live by PTV, the surroundings of this well-appointed cricket venue should make it an attractive viewing for all those watching the action.
Moreover, the presence of top stars in both the outfits augurs a fascinating battle for the trophy. Most eyes will be focusing on the two Akmal brothers -- Kamran and Umar -- who will line up against each other.
Older sibling Kamran has been a vital cog in the Wapda ranks and if he continues his rich rein of form then UBL bowlers could be in for some torrid time.
Kamran missed out on a certain century on eve of his 36th birthday when he was stumped for 87 in the nine-wicket drubbing of PTV in Friday’s semi-final at the NBP Sports Complex, where a day earlier UBL decimated SSGC by seven wickets in the other semi-final.
The wicket-keeper/batsman along with captain Salman Butt skipped the league-round clash with UBL last Sunday as a mark of protest over Wapda chairman’s meddling into cricketing affairs. Therefore, UBL are fully aware that they are in a tough contest against a team which finished runners-up to Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) in the final of the Quaid-i-Azam Trophy National Cricket Championship three weeks ago.
Shan Masood has been the backbone of UBL’s batting line-up in this year’s competition. Apart from just two failures (15 and 0 versus SSGC and SNGPL, respectively), only once the Kuwait-born Pakistan Test opener had been dismissed after 86 (against KRL), while his remaining innings have fetched the left-hander unbeaten knocks of 145 (PTV), 58 (HBL), 105 (NBP), 64 (Wapda) and 100 in Thursday’s semi-final.
Shan (573) and Kamran (532) are miles ahead of the tournament’s leading run-makers while three batsmen who will be in action on Sunday are Umar Akmal (391), Salman (388) and Sohaib Maqsood (341).
The aggression and power-hitting of Umar Akmal and Sohaib as the perfect foil to Shan’s calm approach upfront — with a decent strike rate of 89.53 — make the UBL a formidable unit and with Younis Khan both as mentor and skipper, Wapda have their work cut out.
But if any team that has the capability to stop UBL’s remarkable streak of eight straight victories, it is definitely Wapda because they have the flair and panache to floor the hosts. In the vastly experienced Mohammad Irfan and Mohammad Asif they have got a decent new-ball partnership and if Wahab Riaz bowls better than he did on Friday, Wapda will be able to call the shots.
Mir Hamza and Sameen Gul have done so well that the likes of Sohail Khan and Ehsan Adil are not in the frame to play, although the latter two are also lacking match fitness.
But UBL have a definite edge in spin bowling with Mohammad Asghar and Ashiq Ali superior than both Khalid Usman and Zahid Mansoor.
At a glance, the pitch should allow stroke-makers to enjoy themselves and with the fast outfield, it should be a final to remember.
UBL: Shan Masood, Umar Siddique, Umar Akmal, Sohaib Maqsood, Saad Ali, Younis Khan (captain), Hammad Azam, Ashiq Ali, Mohammad Asghar, Mir Hamza, Sameen Gul, Ehsan Adil, Sohail Khan, Akbar-ur-Rehman.
WAPDA: Salman Butt (captain), Kamran Akmal, Bismillah Khan, Zahid Mansoor, Aamir Sajjad, Khushdil Shah, Mansoor Amjad, Khalid Usman, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Asif, Waqas Maqsood, Mohammad Saad, Asif Mahmood, Hasnain Shah.
Umpires: Khalid Mahmood and Asif Yaqoob.
TV umpire: Ahmed Shahab.
Fourth umpire: Imtiaz Iqbal.
Match referee: Iftikhar Ahmed.
Scorers: Imran Ali and Salman Hussain.
Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2018