LAHORE-Pakistan’s top T20 cricketers will be seen in action as the much-awaited National T20 Cup First XI tournament commences today (Wednesday) at the Multan Cricket Stadium. 

The 33-match tournament, which will be broadcast live in its entirety in High Definition on PTV Sports, marks the beginning of competitive cricket in the country after more than six months and, as such, serves as the curtain-raiser for the 2020-21 domestic season. 

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is the first cricket board to announce and organise a complete domestic season in these unprecedented and difficult Covid-19 times. The PCB has made comprehensive arrangements for the upcoming season to protect the wellbeing and livelihood of the domestic cricketers. Due to the ongoing pandemic and to ensure health and safety of all competitors, the tournament will be played behind closed doors under strict Covid-19 protocols. 

The tournament will be played in two phases as the first phase will continue from September 30 to October 6 in Multan while the second phase will be staged from October 9-18 in Rawalpindi. With two ACC Asia Cups and ICC Men’s T20 World Cups scheduled for the next two years, this year’s National T20 Cup First XI tournament will be played on double-league basis to provide adequate preparation to the players who are likely to represent the Pakistan men’s national team in these events. 

The tournament also provides an opportunity for the country’s best short format cricketers to impress the national selectors and, also, the Pakistan Super League franchise owners and management ahead of the Player Draft for the 2021 season, which is scheduled to be held in November. 

With a coveted trophy and total prize money of PKR9million on offer, Northern, who will be led by Shadab Khan until their captain Imad Wasim (currently engaged in the Vitality Blast T20 tournament in the UK) joins the side in Rawalpindi, will be eager to defend their title. And, the other five teams will be fighting tooth and nail to secure berths in the final of the tournament, which will be played at the Pindi Cricket Stadium on October 18. 

Balochistan will aim to take the next step after they ended as runner-up in the last edition of the tournament, while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Southern Punjab, who managed to reach the semi-finals, will be keen on improving their last performances. Central Punjab and Sindh will be under special focus as their last National T20 Cup, played at Faisalabad’s Iqbal Stadium, was cut short for their failure to qualify for the semi-finals. In the Multan-leg Central Punjab will be led by Saad Nasim, Central Punjab’s regular captain Babar Azam will join the side for the Rawalpindi-leg.

Pakistan head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq, bowling coach Waqar Younis, Head of High Performance Coaching, Grant Bradburn, and Head of International Player Development, Saqlain Mushtaq, will watch the matches as part of their responsibility to scout the young talent, help the coaching staff and bridge communication gap between the domestic cricket and High Performance Centre. 

The National T20 Cup for the Second XIs will be played at the Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium, Pakistan’s home of cricket, from October 1-8. The tournament will be played on single-league basis to increase competition amongst the six Cricket Association Second XI teams as they will aim to put their foot on gas from the outset. This tournament will further help the First XI teams gauge their up and coming cricketers from their Cricket Associations and, as such, will serve as a pathway for the players to graduate to the top domestic level.