KARACHI: Unless there is a dramatic change in their flagging fortunes, it is looking increasingly certain the First XI final of the inaugural six-team Quaid-e-Azam won’t feature either Sindh or Balochistan as they occupy the last two places in the standings.

With only two rounds left in the league stage, the gap between the top four — Central Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Southern Punjab and the vastly-improved Northern — and teams at the bottom is quite significant. It is almost a foregone conclusion that both Sindh and Balochistan have nothing to achieve except their pride, perhaps.

Balochistan are still smarting from the humiliating defeat by innings against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the previous round as they head back to the UBL Sports Complex to face the daunting challenge of stopping the high-flying Northern, who will be definitely going for the kill to garner maximum points.

With the talented Rohail Nazir, hero of Pakistan’s crushing win against Bangladesh in the final of the ACC Emerging Teams Asia Cup on Saturday, yet to arrive home from Dhaka, Northern have shown a newfound surge in their game under the astute eye of head coach and former Pakistan batsman Mohammad Wasim.

Northern were denied victory by fickle weather in Rawalpindi as their last match against Southern Punjab saw play being curtailed badly after the latter was forced to follow on.

But the Karachi weather is not only pleasant but also just perfect for a full day’s action. The only hitch could be the closing stages when the natural daylight starts to fade.

After being displaced from their No.2 berth by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Southern Punjab have to regroup quickly to regain the spot if they aspire to qualify for the Dec 23-27 title-decider. The last game at the National Stadium produced a yawning draw as centuries from the Akmal brothers — Umar and Kamran — comfortably steered Central Punjab to safety.

Sindh’s major worries are their lack of consistency with both bat and ball, much to the disappointment of skipper Sarfraz Ahmed. The deposed Pakistan captain himself is in desperate need of big runs despite getting reasonable starts. He would be praying that the lady luck favours him against Southern Punjab in the coming fixture.

In the top-of-the-table clash at the NBP Sports Complex, both Central Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — who are currently separated by 20 points — would want to stamp their authority. Being the first — and only First XI encounter — at the Clifton venue, rival captains Ahmed Shehzad and Fakhar Zaman have their work cut out.

Schedule (Nov 25-28):

First XI:

Ninth round: Balochistan vs Northern (UBL Sports Complex, Karachi); Southern Punjab vs Sindh (National Stadium, Karachi); Central Punjab vs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (NBP Sports Complex, Karachi).

Current standings

(Tabulated under played, won, lost, drawn, points):

Central Punjab 8 3 0 5 117

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 8 1 0 7 97

Southern Punjab 8 1 0 7 91

Northern 8 1 2 5 84

Sindh 8 0 2 6 69

Balochistan 8 0 2 6 68

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2019