Central Punjab face rough road to retain Quaid Trophy title
KARACHI: With international calls imminent chiefly due to Pakistan’s tour of New Zealand during the first-class domestic season, holders Central Punjab brace for a challenging task if they aspire to retain the prestigious Quaid-e-Azam Trophy title.
While the senior squad will be engaged in a series of two Tests and three Twenty20 Internationals against the Black Caps from the middle of December until the first week of January, the bio-secure bubble scenario — due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic — means Pakistan will be landing in New Zealand in the final week of November to undergo the mandatory quarantine period.
Moreover, the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy will be further depleted by the absence of more cricketers since the second-string Pakistan Shaheens squad would also be visiting New Zealand roughly during the same time like the senior side for a series of matches.
With the entire First XI championship confined to Karachi at four venues this time because of logistic issues arising from the restrictions related to the Covid-19, the 31-match tournament will also take an 11-day break to accommodate staging of the remaining four matches of the Pakistan Super League V season at the National Stadium.
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The iconic National Stadium will hold 10 preliminary-round encounters as well as the Jan 10-5 final, while the United Bank Limited (UBL) Sports Complex would host 10 games, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) six and the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) Sports Complex four in the double round-robin league event.
While five of the teams will be seen in action at all four venues at least once during the season, the scheduling has left Sindh playing not a single match at the NBP Sports Complex. They face Central Punjab twice in their four fixtures at the National Stadium, while they will play three matches apiece at the UBL Sports Complex and the SBP Sports Complex.
The opening round of four-day matches, starting from Sunday, is highlighted by the clash between Central Punjab, who are being led by embattled Pakistan Test skipper Azhar Ali, and the Sarfaraz Ahmed-led Sindh at the National Stadium.
In other first-round ties, last season’s runners-up Northern — who have Nauman Ali as their captain — entertain Southern Punjab, being skippered by Test opener Shan Masood, at the NBP Sports, while Ashfaq Ahmed will lead out Khyber Pakhtunkhwa against the Yasir Shah-led Balochistan at the UBL Sports Complex.
The likes of Babar Azam, the regular Central Punjab skipper, Haris Sohail — who skippered Balochistan last season — Shadab Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Abid Ali, Mohammad Rizwan, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Imam-ul-Haq involved in preparations for the upcoming limited-overs series against Zimbabwe, scheduled in Rawalpindi from next Friday, the stardom status of country’s premier competition will be missing for most of the season.
But the added incentive for those competing here is to stake their claims for inclusion in the two sets of squads for the tour of New Zealand as well as the international matches against South Africa and England after the New Year.
The eventual champions will pocket Rs10 million out of the Rs17 million prize-money with Rs5 million to be earned by the runners-up. The individual awards, carrying Rs500,000 each, will be given to the player-of-the-tournament, best batsman, bowler and wicket-keeper.
All 11 matches scheduled at the National Stadium will be produced by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and broadcast by PTV Sports and stream across the globe by the PCB official YouTube.
Meanwhile, media access has been limited to the National Stadium this season with no entry allowed at the remaining three venues as per protocols and guidelines decided by the cricket board for safety for all concern.
Oct 25-28: Sindh vs Central Punjab (National Stadium, Karachi); Balochistan vs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (UBL Sports Complex, Karachi); Northern vs Southern Punjab (NBP Sports Complex, Karachi)
Oct 31-Nov 3: Balochistan vs Southern Punjab (National Stadium); Khyber Pakhtunkhwa vs Sindh (UBL Sports Complex); Central Punjab vs Northern (NBP Sports Complex)
Nov 6-9: Central Punjab vs Balochistan (National Stadium); Northern vs Sindh (UBL Sports Complex); Khyber Pakhtunkhwa vs Southern Punjab (NBP Sports Complex)
Nov 20-23: Southern Punjab vs Sindh (National Stadium); Central Punjab vs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (UBL Sports Complex); Balochistan vs Northern (NBP Sports Complex)
Nov 26-29: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa vs Northern (National Stadium); Southern Punjab vs Central Punjab (UBL Sports Complex); Balochistan vs Sindh (SBP Sports Complex)
Dec 2-5: Central Punjab vs Sindh (National Stadium); Southern Punjab vs Northern (UBL Sports Complex); Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (SBP Sports Complex).
Dec 8-11: Southern Punjab vs Balochistan (National Stadium); Northern vs Central Punjab (UBL Sports Complex); Sindh vs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (SBP Sports Complex)
Dec 14-17: Sindh vs Northern (National Stadium); Southern Punjab vs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (UBL Sports Complex); Balochistan vs Central Punjab (SBP Sports Complex)
Dec 20-23: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa vs Central Punjab (National Stadium); Northern vs Balochistan (UBL Sports Complex); Sindh vs Southern Punjab (SBP Sports Complex)
Dec 26-29: Northern vs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (National Stadium); Central Punjab vs Southern Punjab (SBP Sports Complex); Sindh vs Balochistan (UBL Sports Complex) Jan 1-5: Final (National Stadium).