KARACHI: Asad Shafiq regained top form in the best possible way just days after being axed for the New Zealand tour by scoring a superlative century as Sindh thwarted leaders Southern Punjab in their Quaid-e-Azam Trophy clash here at the National Stadium on Friday.
Elsewhere, bowlers were on song as no less than 14 wickets fell in the match between Khyber Pakhtunhwa and holders Central Punjab at the UBL Sports Complex, while Balochistan made solid progress against last season’s runners-up Northern at the NBP Sports Complex.
Asad, leading the side in the absence of New Zealand-bound tourist Sarfaraz Ahmed, was soon joined by Omair Bin Yousuf as other century-maker at the start of fourth-round fixtures in the premier first-class championship after the two got united when Sindh — who had opted to bat first — had slumped to 37-3. But by end of the day, Sindh were poised for a big first-innings total at 289-4.
Left-arm seamer Zia-ul-Haq had the out-of-form Sharjeel Khan (5) caught in the slips before having the ex-Pakistan left-hander’s new opening partner Jaahid Ali (3) taken at short leg off a rising delivery.
And when Saud Shakeel (9) was taken in the slip cordon off discarded Pakistan paceman Bilawal Bhatti, Sindh were in a real mess. But Omair and Asad nullified the early advantage which Southern Punjab had in a magnificent partnership of 228 — the highest of the ongoing season — in 253 minutes on either side of the one-hour extended break for lunch and Friday prayers before the Test right-hander trudged off with a bout of cramps.
The salient feature of their batting was the excellent running between the wickets by the Sindh pair as singles and twos were scored at will and an all-run four when Omair pierced a large gap in the midwicket area. Both Omair and Asad left the fielders rattled, while maintaining a brisk scoring-rate throughout the day.
Asad, who had accumulated just 187 runs from six previous innings in the tournament, was the first to get to his century — the 34-year-old’s 24th in first-class cricket and third at the National Stadium — when he cut leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood to the point boundary and had advanced to 123 from 195 deliveries before going off. His impeccable innings contained 17 boundaries.
Omair, meanwhile, went through a harrowing experience when he sprinted through for a run and started celebrating and bowing down on the pitch, thinking he had reached the coveted milestone after the electronic scoreboard had incorrectly showed up 100 against his name, whereas Omar had only moved to 99.
However, the former Pakistan U-19 player had to spent some anxious moments before finally bringing up his fourth first-class century by pulling Bilawal to the fence. Omair is still going strong on 129 with his 210-ball knock including 11 fours until stumps were drawn early because of fading light.
Following the break in the massive partnership, night-watchman Tabish Khan departed without scoring to provide Zahid his first wickets. Saad Ali (11) then joined Omair to see out the last 30 minutes of play.
Having started their title defence with back-to-back defeats in their opening two fixtures, Central Punjab were once again at the receiving end. After electing to bat upon winning the toss, the champions collapsed inside 67 overs for a measly 158. Barring stand-in captain Usman Salahuddin (54 off 145 balls, four fours), the rest crumbled against the pace-spin combination of Imran Khan (3-29) and Sajid Khan (4-56).
But Khyber Pakhtunkhwa responded in the same manner as they stuttered to 61-4 by close of play after Musadiq Ahmed and Israrullah had put on 42 for the first wicket.
Former Pakistan U-19 skipper Azeem Ghumman fell just five short of a century in his first-class comeback but his 233-ball 95 (eight fours) guided Balochistan to 257-5 against Northern after the toss was uncontested. Ali Waqas (52) helped Azeem add exactly 100 for the second wicket.
Northern captain Nauman Ali snared three of the wickets with his slow left-armers but it was tough going for the remaining bowlers.
Close of play scores on Friday (day one of four):
First XI, fourth round:
At National Stadium, Karachi: SINDH 289-4 in 83.2 overs (Omair Bin Yousuf 129 not out, Asad Shafiq 123 retired hurt; Zia-ul-Haq 2-41) vs SOUTHERN PUNJAB.
At UBL Sports Complex, Karachi: CENTRAL PUNJAB 158 in 66.2 overs (Usman Salahuddin 54, Bilal Asif 22, Ahmed Safi Abdullah 20; Sajid Khan 4-56, Imran Khan 3-29, Khalid Usman 2-35); KHYBER PAKHTUNKHWA 61-4 in 21 overs (Israrullah 25, Musadiq Ahmed 22; Waqas Maqsood 2-17, Bilal Asif 2-26).
At NBP Sports Complex, Karachi: BALOCHISTAN 257-5 in 87 overs (Azeem Ghumman 95, Ali Waqas 52, Bismillah Khan 26 not out, Taimur Ali 26, Imran Farhat 24; Nauman Ali 3-70) vs NORTHERN.
Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2020