LAHORE-After an action-packed National T20 Cup in Multan and Rawalpindi, the focus shifts to Karachi as Pakistan’s largest city gears up to host the first-class Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, a jewel in the crown of Pakistan cricket, from today (Sunday). 

According to PCB spokesman here on Saturday, the first three rounds will be played across three venues – National Stadium, NBP Sports Complex and UBL Sports Complex – before the tournament takes an 11-day break during which the play-offs of the HBL Pakistan Super League 2020, which had to be postponed due to an outbreak of Covid-19 in the country, will be staged. Besides the three venues, State Bank Stadium will also host six matches of the 31-match tournament.

The six team captains were taken to a photo-shoot with the prestigious tournament trophy at the Quaid-e-Azam Mausoleum (Mazar-e-Quaid) on Friday. The players travelled in a sterilised bus and maintained social distancing at the location while fully following the existing Covid-19 SOPs and protocols during the shoot. With the Pakistan’s men’s national team and Pakistan Shaheens scheduled to travel to New Zealand on 23 November, the first three rounds serve as an audition for the first-class cricketers to stake a claim in the red-ball side on the back of impressive performances.

In line with the PCB’s vision of incentivising top-performers, more than PKR17million are up for grabs over the course of the 31-match tournament with the winning prize money PKR10million and the runner-up bagging PKR5million. The top-performers – player of the tournament, best batsman, best bowler and best wicketkeeper – will pocket PKR500,000 each. The player of the final will be awarded PKR50,000.

Defending champions Central Punjab will begin their campaign from the National Stadium, Karachi, as they take on hosts Sindh in a match which will be televised live on PTV Sports and relayed all over the world by the Pakistan Cricket Board’s official YouTube channel. The PCB as part of its commitment to promote domestic cricket, will broadcast and stream all 11 matches, including the five-day final, from the National Stadium.

With Babar Azam leading Pakistan in the three ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Super League matches and as many T20Is, Azhar Ali will take charge of the defending champions Central Punjab side, which includes seasoned wicketkeeper-batsman Kamran Akmal, who finished as the second highest run-getter in the last edition of the first-class Quaid-e-Azam Trophy with 906 runs at 60.40.

Sarfaraz Ahmed, the former Pakistan Test captain, will be eager to ensure that his team lives up to its potential as they were one of the two teams, other being Balochistan, who failed to register a win last season. They will be banking on Fawad Alam, who was Sindh’s best batsman last year with 781 runs (four centuries and two half-centuries) to provide stability to their batting order which also boasts Test batsman Asad Shafiq and impressive youngsters like Saud Shakeel and Omair Bin Yousaf.

Northern, under the leadership of Nauman Ali, won three matches – all secured in their last four matches – to secure a berth in the final. Over the course of their 11-match journey, Haider Ali, who later went on to become member of the men’s national team, scored 99 on debut and followed it up with two centuries, the last one of them in the final against Central Punjab.

Southern Punjab, led by Test batsman Shan Masood, will be hoping for change of fortunes after they finished without a victory in the last season. Their head coach, Abdur Rehman, has gathered a promising side, which promises to provide Shan a balanced team with equally effective batting and bowling units. While Mohammad Irfan, slow-left arm, will spearhead the spin unit, which has talented youngster Umar Khan and leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan begin their Quaid-e-Azam Trophy campaign at the UBL Sports Complex. Balochistan, who finished at the bottom, will be led by Test leg-spinner Yasir Shah. Imran Butt, the highest run-getter of the last Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, is joined by left-handed top-order batsman Sami Aslam, who was the fourth highest run-getter with 864 runs, he represented Southern Punjab last season.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa boast an experienced pace bowling attack with the likes of Junaid Khan, Imran Khan Snr, Usman Khan Shinwari, Sameen Gul and Ahmed Jamal in the ranks, while their batting department is consolidated with the presence of top-order batsman Sahibzada Farhan, Adil Amin and wicketkeeper Rehan Afridi.