LAHORE: With all six teams in fray for the semi-finals, the National T20 Cup’s second leg starts at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore from Wednesday with question marks still hanging over many of the Twenty20 World Cup-bound Pakistan squad.
The conditions at the Pindi Cricket Stadium in Rawalpindi during the first leg were relatively tough for batting. But all that is sure to change given the nature of pitches at the picturesque Gaddafi Stadium where the batters general thrive, particularly in the T20 format.
There were just three totals in the 200 range during the first leg, with Northern overhauling Central Punjab’s 200-2 by reaching 201-4 in the same game, while holders Khyber Pakhtunkhwa posting the highest team score of 202-5 against Balochistan, who in turn had registered the lowest completed total of 98 against Sindh.
The Sarfaraz Ahmed-led Sindh top the standings by virtue of their superior net-run-rate of 0.647 as they are equal on points with Mohammad Rizwan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Babar Azam-captained Central Punjab and the Shadab Khan-led Northern. All four sides have garnered eight points apiece. Balochistan have four points from two wins while Southern Punjab are rooted at the base as they search for an elusive first victory.
The opening day action in Lahore sees Central Punjab take on Sindh in the afternoon fixture, while Northern face Balochistan under lights. After conclusion of the remaining 12 games of the league phase, the semi-finals will be played on Oct 12 and the final the next day.
The captains, in the meantime, expect exhilarating cricket during the remaining 15 matches left in the tournament.
Babar says: “This National T20 has been one of the most exciting competitions I have ever been part of and I have no doubts that the quality and competitiveness of the tournament will get even better when we move to Lahore with all sides vying for semi-final berths.
“Central Punjab have not been able to make their fans happy in the last two editions, but we are eager to lift the trophy at our home ground this time.”
Sarfaraz remarks: “The Rawalpindi-leg brought us good results and have put us in a good position for a place in the semi-finals. We cannot afford to be complacent as we still have a long way to go. The pitches in Lahore should provide more scoring opportunities to the batters and need to ensure that we make full use of the conditions. While our top-order has been delivering for us as Sharjeel [Khan] and Khurram [Manzoor] are both contributing, we need a bit more from our middle and lower order.”
Rizwan has this to say: “We have one simple game plan, which is to play cricket according to contemporary standards. It worked for us in the last season and playing attacking, positive and modern-day cricket will help us in retaining our title and entertaining the fans in Lahore.
“We have achieved some good results in Rawalpindi, but the job is half done and our team understands that. We need to remain focused in Lahore, because all teams will be using the change of venue as an opportunity to re-gather and fill in the loopholes.”
Shadab comments: “The Rawalpindi-leg was hard fought as all teams produced some good cricket. We have gathered eight points and are eyeing a semi-final spot now. We play fearless brand of cricket and it has worked well for us not only this year but in the last two editions too.”
Imam-ul-Haq, the Balochistan skipper, points out: “We may not have achieved the desired results in Rawalpindi, but we are optimistic about our chances in Lahore. Over the last few days, we have identified gaps in our game plan and we will be looking to fill them when we take the field on Wednesday.”
Aamir Yamin, who replaced Sohaib Maqsood as Southern Punjab captain, remains hopeful of his team coming back into contention: “After the disappointment of the first leg we are entering the Lahore leg knowing that we have nothing to lose anymore. At the same time, we remember well how we turned it all around last year after an equally poor start.”
Meanwhile, the PCB has priced each ticket at Rs50 for entry into the stadium, while keeping both Imran Khan and Fazal Mahmood Enclosures for the families. Spectators are also advised to book their tickets online at www.bookme.pk. They are further urged to bring their vaccinated certificates and CNIC along with them when coming for the matches.
Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2021