KARACHI: Even before the first ball in the National One-day Cup for Departments is delivered at the National Stadium on Monday, the talking point revolves on the charismatic figure of Shahid Afridi who makes a very rare return to domestic cricket.
In sporting terms, the presence of Afridi in the Habib Bank Limited (HBL) ranks wouldn’t cause any fears for Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC), who will be bidding to make history by sealing a first major crown, while being aware of the characteristic unpredictability of Afridi’s game throughout his career, both at the international and national levels.
Since retiring from international cricket, the former Pakistan captain has been mainly plying his trade on T20 circuit with pinch of one-day cricket during the last summer in England where he turned for Hampshire.
In his last 50-over match on June 14 at Bristol, The soon-to-be 37-year-old Afridi returned figures of 0-44 in 10 overs as Gloucestershire amassed 352-3, but was bowled for a 10-ball 4 in Hampshire’s tally of 342-8. It was also Afridi’s 500th List A appearance in a long career that began 21 seasons ago.
The return of Afridi for his first competition fixture in four weeks undoubtedly bolsters, on paper at least, an already confident-looking HBL side which rode on a magnificent Ahmed Shehzad century to demolish Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) by six wickets in Saturday’s semi-final at the National Stadium.
Shehzad, the HBL skipper, smashed a boundary-laden 166 from just 124 balls to extend his total in the tournament to a staggering 585 runs with his career-best effort on Saturday being his third ton in this event and second on the trot.
Unsurprisingly, HBL will be praying that Shehzad has enough energy left in the tank to inspire them again as they seek their first limited-overs trophy since 2010-11 when they won the Division One title. Prior to that last success, HBL lifted a one-day trophy as long as 1993-94 after making a hat-trick of final victories between 1989-90 and 1991-92.
While Shehzad has been the batsman of the competition, team-mate Fahim Ashraf is the leading bowler with 18 wickets thus far. Fahim, a 22-year-old who bowls left-arm seamers at a decent pace and also bats left-handed, has emerged as an all-rounder of some merit this season.
HBL also expect their settled opening pair of left-handers Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman to give them a good start, while the experienced Aftab Khan anchors the middle-order batting.
SSGC, on the other hand, will be heavily relying on the inspirational Shoaib Malik to realize the dream in their maiden final.
However, at the time of filing this report, the team management waited anxiously to know whether Malik would be available for the title-decider since the former Pakistan skipper has been summoned by the PCB in Lahore to appear for the fitness test — a mandatory requirement before Malik is cleared for the One-day International series in Australia later this month.
Malik, who was supposed to lead SSGC at the start of the competition, has handed the reins to Pakistan discard Fawad Alam since returning from a private visit to India that forced him to miss two matches.
Awais Zia, a hard-hitting left-handed opener and another who had been sidelined by the national selectors after a handful of T20 International appearances against England, has been the driving force behind SSGC’s current campaign with 396 runs, including a career0best effort of 134.
Adil Amin is also in fine form with 327 runs and with Malik and Fawad adding the experience factor, SSGC do possess a good batting line-up to challenge HBL.
Left-arm paceman Zia-ul-Haq carries a heavy responsibility along with slow left-armer Mohammad Irfan while all-rounder Aamir Yamin is expected to play after missing the semi-final win over Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) at the NBP Sports Complex where conditions were deemed unsuitable for his brisk medium-pacers.
Psychologically, SSGC do hold a slight advantage over HBL coming into the final after having handed their fancied rivals a resounding 70-run defeat in Hyderabad 10 days ago when both Awais and Adil hit hundreds in the current tournament’s highest total of 349-7.
But SSGC, who are coached by ex-Pakistan wicket-keeper Atiq-uz-Zaman, know that despite the result of their previous, it is the performance on the biggest stage that counts.
HABIB BANK: Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Ahmed Shehzad (captain), Aftab Khan, Rameez Aziz, Fahim Ashraf, Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Waqas, Jamal Anwar, Zohaib Khan, Ammad Butt, Usman Khan Shinwari, Ali Shafiq, Umar Gul.
SSGC: Awais Zia, Umar Amin, Adil Amin, Asif Zakir, Shoaib Malik, Fawad Alam (captain), Saifullah Khan Bangash, Aamir Yamin, Zafar Gohar, Mohammad Irfan, Ahmed Jamal, Zia-ul-Haq, Zain Abbas, Adnan Ghaus, Tariq Haroon.
Umpires: Shozab Raza and Ahsan Raza.
Match referee: Mohammad Anees.
Official scorer: Syed Imran Ali.
couretsy : dawn news