LAHORE : Pakistan’s best first-class cricketers continue to ply their trade in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy 2022-23 and the third round of the four-day tournament commences tomorrow, Sunday in Abbottabad, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi.
After two of the three matches in the first round produced results, all three matches in the second round ended in a draw. The draws, however, set up the third round nicely with the points difference between top-ranked Northern and second-placed Balochistan reduced to only three before their face-off at the Abbottabad Cricket Stadium.
Balochistan staged an outstanding comeback to secure a draw after falling behind Central Punjab by 350 runs in the last round. It was a valiant second innings century from Imam-ul-Haq – who joined Balochistan after returning from County Cricket – and half-centuries from Imran Butt and Asad Shafiq that added five points to Balochistan’s tally, instead of a defeat.
Northern had begun the tournament with a dominating 10-wicket win. After Sindh had made 457 for eight, Umar Amin and Faizan Riaz scored solid centuries and Nauman Ali made 65 that lifted them to 417.
Their young all-rounder Mubasir Khan, who was player of the tournament in the last season, is the joint leading wicket-taker with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Arshad Iqbal with nine scalps. He took four wickets in an innings in the last match.
Central Punjab will rue the missed opportunity of claiming their first win of the tournament after taking a 350-run lead over Balochistan in the last round. Both of their matches proved to be stalemates and they will look to capitalise on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s poor form to earn 16 crucial win points.
Abdullah Shafique and Tayyab Tahir are the top run-getters in this edition with 329 and 302 runs at towering averages of 110 and 151. While Abdullah recorded his maiden double century and a half-century in the first round, Tayyab scored centuries in two consecutive innings, stretched over the two rounds.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa –languishing at the bottom of the points table – are the title defenders. They shared the trophy with Central Punjab in the 2020-21 edition and beat Northern in the final the previous season.
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They have had a bad run in the two rounds and will hope to overturn their fortunes, starting tomorrow.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Kamran Ghulam (249 at 62.25) and Waqar Ahmed (245 at 81.67) are third and fourth on the list of batters with most runs and fast bowler Arshad with nine wickets is the joint leading wicket-taker with Northern’s Mubasir.
In the third match of the round beginning from tomorrow, Southern Punjab and Sindh will play at the Pindi Cricket Stadium in front of High-Definition broadcast cameras that will beam the action live through PCB’s YouTube channel.
Southern Punjab suffered a heavy defeat by Northern in the first round and enter this match after drawing their previous round fixture against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Zain Abbas, the opening batter, is the highest run-getter for them with 195 – including a century – at an average of 48.75, while Hasan Ali, with six wickets at 34, has been their best bowler.
Sindh come into this match after playing two draws. They were able to post an imposing 457 for eight against Northern in the first innings of their previous round match against Northern thanks to a classy 158 from their captain Saud Shakeel.
Sindh’s middle-order comprises experienced Test batters Fawad Alam and Sarfaraz Ahmed and both have made their presence felt by stepping up when the team needed them to.
Fawad scored a brilliant century against Central Punjab in what was the two teams’ season opener and Sarfaraz has scored two half-centuries – his 148 runs have come at an average of 148 that underscore the struggle of the opposition bowlers to get him out in the first two rounds.
Pacers Asif Mehmood and Mir Hamza are the two leading wicket-takers for Sindh with seven and six wickets at an average of 34.29 and 18.83.