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Babar optimistic ahead of new domestic season

Pakistan’s star batsman will lead a strong Central Punjab outfit

PHOTO: AFP

Pakistan’s star batsman Babar Azam will lead a strong Central Punjab outfit in the 2019-20 domestic season that gets underway with the prestigious Quaid-e-Azam Trophy’s first round from September 14. Central will take on Southern Punjab in the Punjab Derby from Saturday in their season opener at the Gaddafi Stadium Lahore.

Babar who has become the linchpin of Pakistan’s batting across the three formats has been in a rich vein of form and peaked at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, which saw him make the most runs for a Pakistan batsman, in a single World Cup edition, in what was his maiden ICC Cricket World Cup.

“I am very happy to be captaining the side with so many senior players around. The experienced players will be there to help me out and I would seek their advice as and when needed,” said Azam. “I am also looking forward to the new Quaid-e-Azam format. It should be good season of cricket.”

Central Punjab, a squad laden with talent and skill

Team Preview 👇https://t.co/eQOYRuSStN#QeA19 pic.twitter.com/Xm8vxC54XO

— Pakistan Cricket (@TheRealPCB) September 12, 2019

The right-handed top-order batsman, regarded as one of the most elegant stroke-makers in the game at present, amassed 474 runs at 67.71 with the help of one century and three half-centuries.

Babar who at present is the first pick among batsmen for Pakistan in all three formats has already scored 5695 international runs in a four-year career span.

Babar will look to further raise his stakes in the longer formats by posting some big runs in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy in a bid to improve his at present 37 run first-class average from 53 appearances, including 21 Test appearances.

As a captain, Babar will have at his disposal a star-studded batting line-up which has the capability of excelling in all three formats. Domestic and international cricket’s seasoned campaigners Azhar Ali, Kamran Akmal, Umar Akmal and Salman Butt will add experience and depth in Central Punjab’s batting. Test batsman Usman Sallahuddin and Pakistan international Saad Naseem provide further strength to the batting department.

Azhar, a veteran of 73 Tests, has scored a total of 11581 first-class runs with the aid of 35 centuries in a career spanning 19 years.

Wicketkeeper batsman Kamran has enjoyed a rich vein of form in domestic cricket in recent years. He is one of the nine batsmen to have scored 1000-plus runs in single edition of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy tournament having achieved the feat in the 2016-17 season when he scored 1035 runs at 79.61.

Another Pakistan Test batsman in Central Punjab’s ranks is Vice-captain Ahmed Shehzad, who has also been a consistent performer at the domestic level. The right-handed opener has 5041 runs in 72 first-class appearances. As opener, Ahmed will have the experience of former Pakistan captain Salman Butt who is likely to open with him. Salman, the left-handed opening-batsman, has scored 8020 runs in his 121-match first-class career and has 22 centuries to his name.

Central Punjab also boasts a potent bowling attack. Rising fast-bowler Naseem Shah will provide pace and hostility along with the experienced duo of Pakistan internationals Ehsan Adil and Waqas Maqsood. Ehsan has so far collected 218 first-class wickets in a 54-match career, while, left-armer Waqas has taken 230 wickets in his 57-match first-class career.

All-rounder Faheem Ashraf will look to chip-in with some big performances in a bid to regain his place in the national side. Faheem who has represented Pakistan in four Tests has appeared in a total of 40 first-class matches, scoring 1478 runs and snaring 117 wickets.

Test off-spinner Bilal Asif who took six wickets on debut against Australia last year will lead the spin attack with international left-armer Zafar Gohar for company.

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Azam is excited about the opportunity of captaining a richly experienced squad especially with the depth in the batting department.

“I am looking forward to the tournament and captaining the side. It is a huge honour to captain such a star-studded team. Our batting will be our big strength since we have some real experience and class in our ranks and we bat deep till number seven, eight. Salman Butt, Kamran Akmal, Azhar Ali, Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal are all proven performers,” he said.

Speaking about the team’s bowling, he said: “In the bowling department we would be relying on Ehsan Adil to spearhead the attack. We also have Faheem Ashraf, who will also be a valuable asset for us. Our spin attack will be led by Bilal Asif, which gives the attack a potent look.

Central Punjab Second XI

The Central Punjab side which compete in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy Second XI tournament is led by left-handed middle-order batsman Ali Waqas. The Sargodha-born has scored 4471 runs in 84 first-class matches at 35.48.

The team will have a mentor in Aizaz Cheema, who has taken 556 wickets in 134 first-class matches — of which seven were Tests. His epic last over in the 2012 ACC Asia Cup helped Pakistan to the tournament victory as the right-arm medium-fast bowler defended nine runs against the hosts Bangladesh. The 40-year-old featured for Pakistan in 14 ODIs and five T20Is.

Young left-hander Ali Zaryab who appeared in the ICC U19 World Cup held last year in New Zealand will be aiming to make a big impression, Abdullah Shafiq is another youngster who has the opportunity of making his presence felt in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy Second XI.

Promising leg-spinner Suleman Shafqat is another exciting prospect. Suleman has also represented Pakistan U19 and will be aiming to make big strides in the 2019-20 domestic season starting with the three-day event.

Central Punjab second XI take on Southern Punjab second XI in their opening match from 14 September which will be played at the Iqbal Stadium Faisalabad.