KARACHI: Having not yet won the Pakistan Cup, both Punjab and Balochistan will launch their bid for the elusive title when the fifth edition of the one-day tournament starts at the Pindi Cricket Stadium in Rawalpindi from Tuesday.
Defending champions Federal Areas, who are chasing their third trophy on the trot this time since their team was changed from Islamabad after the first event, will begin their campaign on Wednesday when they take on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the side which won the title in inaugural year by handing Punjab a five-wicket at Faisalabad’s Iqbal Stadium in 2016.
Since then Federal Areas have emerged winners in the next two editions. In 2017, they upstaged Balochistan at the Pindi Cricket Stadium by a solitary wicket in a high-scoring final which was decided on the last ball. In contrast to that thriller the 2017 title-decider in Faisalabad was rather a lopsided affair as Federal Areas easily sealed a five-wicket triumph against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Sindh, in the meantime, have a lot of catching up to do because they are the only team who never made it to the final. Former Pakistan seamer Umar Gul has been entrusted with the task to change Sindh’s fortunes as their captain.
On the first day of the competition, Asad Shafiq and Kamran Akmal will be confronting each other as skippers of Balochistan and Punjab, respectively. Mohammad Rizwan has been named to lead Federal Areas, while ex-Pakistan captain Salman Butt will be captaining Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
However, the tournament will be without the six players who were not part of the just-ended series of five One-day Internationals in which world champions Australia whitewashed Pakistan in the UAE. Thus, the likes of Sarfraz Ahmed, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan and Shaheen Shah Afridi will have an extended break alongside the majority of the squad members who were in the UAE. The selectors, thereby, are continuing the policy of providing ample rest to the Pakistan team members who are confirmed selections for the ICC World Cup starting from May 30 in the United Kingdom.
In what should be an intense battle between five evenly-matched outfits, picked by the national selection committee, the 10 fixtures at the league phase promise to be keenly contested with several World Cup spots very much at stake.
Therefore, chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq and committee members Tauseef Ahmed, Wajahatullah Wasti and Wasim Haider will all be keeping a close watch throughout the competition that concludes with the April 12 final. And with the 15-man squad for the mega event to be announced after the Pakistan Cup, there will be a lot of healthy rivalries among players flourishing on the field of play to impress the selectors.
Inzamam insisted the Pakistan Cup definitely gives the selection committee a chance of looking at the players who will be seriously considered for the World Cup.
“Our policy of picking players on their performances in domestic cricket has paid off quite well and there are examples of it. We will be minutely monitoring exceptional performances for [World Cup] positions which are up still for grabs,” the former Pakistan captain said in a PCB statement.
“We are giving Pakistan Cup the value it certainly deserves because all the top performers on the domestic front are in the running and they deserve to be given fair opportunity before the national side is finalised for the World Cup.”
BALOCHISTAN: Asad Shafiq (captain), Ali Imran, Amad Butt, Awais Zia, Bismillah Khan, Fawad Alam, Ghulam Mudassar, Haris Rauf, Mohammad Irfan Sr, Qaiser Ashraf, Taj Wali, Umar Khan, Umar Akmal, Waqar Hussain, Zeeshan Ashraf
FEDERAL AREAS: Mohammad Rizwan (captain), Ahmed Shehzad, Asad Afridi, Bilal Asif, Israrullah, Khurram Shehzad, Mohammad Nawaz, Nihal Mansoor, Rameez Raja, Sadaf Hussain, Sameen Gul, Saud Shakeel, Sohaib Maqsood, Waqas Maqsood, Zia-ul-Haq
KHYBER PAKHTUNKHWA: Salman Butt (captain), Abid Ali, Adil Amin, Adnan Akmal, Faizan Riaz, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Irfan Jr, Mohammad Saad, Sohail Khan, Mohammad Musa Khan, Umaid Asif, Wahab Riaz, Zeeshan Malik, Zohaib Khan
PUNJAB: Kamran Akmal (captain), Bilawal Bhatti, Ehsan Adil, Fahad Iqbal, Hussain Talat, Iftikhar Ahmed, Kashif Bhatti, Khurram Manzoor, Mohammad Asghar, Mohammad Sami, Ramiz Aziz, Saad Ali, Sami Aslam, Sohail Tanvir, Waleed Ahmed
SINDH: Umar Gul (captain), Ahsan Ali, Aamir Yamin, Ashiq Ali, Asif Ali; Hammad Azam, Imran Rafiq, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Hasan, Mohammad Ilyas, Nauman Ali, Rahat Ali, Sahibzada Farhan, Umar Amin, Umar Siddique.
(Matches start at 2:00pm PST):
April 2: Punjab vs Balochistan
April 3: Federal Areas vs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
April 4: Balochistan vs Sindh
April 5: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa vs Punjab
April 6: Sindh vs Federal Areas
April 7: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa vs Balochistan
April 8: Punjab vs Federal Areas
April 9: Sindh vs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
April 10: Federal Areas vs Balochistan
April 11: Punjab vs Sindh
April 12: Final
Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2019