LAHORE    -   Defending champions Northern will be the team to beat when the second-leg of the National T20 Cup for First XI teams begins today (Friday) at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium.  

Northern won each of their first five matches of the Multan leg and are currently on an 11-match unbeaten streak in the T20 format. They have won 10 consecutive National T20 Cup matches while they also beat the MCC team in Lahore earlier in the year in a one-off encounter.  Eight 200 or 200 plus totals were posted in the Multan-leg on some excellent T20 pitches that provided batsmen the opportunity to play their shots and assistance to bowlers as the fans were treated with some riveting contests. 

A total of 481 fours and 180 sixes were hit in Multan and the competition is only expected to go stiffer as the teams vie for the four semi-final berths in the second leg of the tournament. Besides Northern, second-placed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (eight points from four matches) and Balochistan (six points from five games) are well-placed in the hunt for the semi-finals spot. The second-round action kicks off with Northern taking on fifth-placed Central Punjab, who will be led by Pakistan men’s limited overs captain Babar Azam. Sindh play Southern Punjab under floodlights in the second match of the day. 

Central Punjab had a tough run in Multan, with just one win in five matches, yet seem to have introduced a potential star in top-order batsman Abdullah Shafiq. The 20-year-old right hander is at the top of the run scorer’s list with a tally of 236 runs which includes the tournament’s only century to date. Abdullah entered his name in the record books by becoming only the second player ever to score a century both on first-class and T20 debut when he scored an unbeaten 102 against Southern Punjab on the opening day of the tournament to secure what proved to be his side’s only victory in the Multan-leg. 

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Mohammad Hafeez has carried on from where he left in England (man-of-the-series in T20I series) and is currently occupying the second spot with 207 runs. Balochistan opener Imam-ul-Haq is third with a tally of 195 runs while Northern’s young opener Zeeshan Malik is fourth (192 runs) followed by Balochistan captain Haris Sohail who has 181 runs. Besides Abdullah’s century, three batsmen Imam (94), Sharjeel Khan (90) and Haider Ali (90) came with-in touching distance of scoring a century at the Multan Cricket Stadium. 

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Shaheen Shah Afridi has continued his rich vein of bowling form following his record-setting six wicket spell for Hampshire in the England T20 championship. The left-armer has already collected two five-wicket hauls and currently occupies the top-spot in the highest wicket-takers list of the National T20 Cup. 

Shaheen has taken 12 wickets in four appearances including match winning five wicket hauls against Balochistan and Sindh (the only two five wicket hauls of the Multan-leg). Three Northern bowlers, Haris Rauf, 

Shadab Khan and Musa Khan follow Shaheen in the wicket-takers list exemplifying the strength of the defending champions’ bowling line-up. Haris has taken 10 wickets in four games, Shadab, who captained Northern in Multan, has eight wickets while Musa has collected seven wickets in four matches. 

While Northern, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan seem geared towards semi-final berths, Central Punjab, Sindh and Southern Punjab have all to play for in Rawalpindi. Sindh and Central Punjab have two points each from four and five matches respectively, Southern Punjab are yet to open their account after suffering four defeats in as many matches.