Pakistan’s domestic first class competition has today come to an end following the final between Habib Bank and Water and Power Development Authority in Karachi. WAPDA’s overall victory, thanks to their first innings lead, concludes what has been a dominant season for the club, suffering just one loss. The year’s competition has provided a range of star performers, from veterans of the Pakistan Test side, too youngsters, hoping to make a case for selection over the winter. What follows is not a definitive team of the season, there were some excellent players who do not make the cut. Those who have been chosen have been selected based on their roles as match winners over the course of the season. The side is:
- Salman Butt
- Usman Salahuddin
- Asif Zakir
- Kamran Akmal (wk)
- Imran Farhat
- Iftikhar Ahmed
- Khalid Usman
- Mohammad Abbas
- Tabish Khan
- Mir Hamza
Imam-ul-Haq, Habib Bank Limited, 11 mat, 20 inns, 848 runs, 49.88 Ave, 3 100s.
Imam-ul-Haq, nephew of Inzamam, has had a superb season opening the batting for Habib Bank. The left hander turned 21 during the tournament and such a strong season at such a young age surely bodes well for his hopes of following his uncle into the Test arena. Imam first appeared on the international stage at the U19 world cup in 2014 and he has clearly pushed on from his success at that tournament. Immediately recognisable at the crease thanks to his spectacles, Imam has been impressively consistent for an opener, beginning the season with three scores of over 40 in his first four innings. Following a slight dip in form, Imam really began to make his mark from the Super Eight stage in mid-November. The first match of the Super Eight round saw Imam make his maiden First Class century against National Bank which he followed up in the next game against Khan Research Labs with a second innings 86, top scoring in another victory. A second hundred followed against United Bank although this match was tragically cut short due to the terrible hotel fire which left 11 dead and dozens more injured (including 2 United Bank players). Imam stared in the final and, despite losing out in the end, his 200* and opening partnership of 303 with Fakhar Zaman changed the game and put Habib Bank in the driving seat after they had conceded a first innings lead. Overall, Imam’s heroics throughout the Super Eight stage and in the final give him a deserved place in the team o the season. In the 2014 U19 world cup he opened alongside Sami Aslam, how long before they will partner up again, this time at Test level?
Salman Butt, WAPDA, 10 mat, 16 inns, 741 runs, 49.40 Ave, 4 100s.
Salman Butt made his controversial return to the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy after a seven-year absence when he captained Water and Power Development Authority against Lahore Blues at the start of October. Butt of course had not played any First Class cricket since his ban for his involvement in the spot fixing scandal which took place under his captaincy of Pakistan. Despite his past, it would have been very difficult not to include him in this team of the season based purely on his cricket. Along with Imam-ul-Haq he has been the outstanding opener of the season. The 32 year old’s year started slowly with a 76 against Islamabad being his only real contribution with the bat in WAPDA’s first four games. Butt did perform when it mattered for his side however. A first hundred of the season came in the last match before the Super Eight’s against Habib Bank. The crowning moment for the disgraced former Test player did come in the final. His two hundreds in the match gave WAPDA the first innings lead and the draw that they needed, his gritty 105 from 337 balls, mostly on the final day, was the tournament’s decisive innings. Butt has been clear about his desire for a recall for Pakistan and while most would hope that the national selectors go for a younger, more promising choice, there is no doubt that Salman Butt’s season has improved his chances.
Usman Salahuddin, National Bank, 10 mat, 17 inns, 843 runs, 70.25 Ave, 3 100s.
There can be no doubt that 26 year old Usman Salahuddin is on the radar as a potential middle order successor for Younis and Misbah. Salahuddin is a very impressive player who has done his reputation no harm this season. He began the tournament with a fifty as National Bank beat Lahore Whites. His form continued with scores of 113* and 72* in a draw against Karachi Whites in which his team were made to follow on. Salahuddin put in another match defining performance against Sui Northern Gas Pipelines as his 91* steered National Bank to victory as they chased down 267. Two more not out hundreds were achieved in his next two game against Khan Research Labs. Despite this great form National Bank would lose their three Super Eight matches but on a personal level Usman Salahuddin can only look back on what has been a magnificent season.
Asif Zakir, SSGC, 9 mat, 11 inns, 853 runs, 85.30 Ave, 4 100s.
Asif Zakir is now in his 30s but he will definitely fancy his chances of an international call-up following his excellent domestic form over the past few seasons. In the summer, he found himself on the 22 man long-list for the tour to England and, despite not making the final squad, his runs for Sui Southern Gas Corporation mean he will stay in the minds of the selectors. Zakir’s form began in his third game of the season with an impressive 127 against Karachi Blues. Two games later he powered SSGC to 529 and an innings victory against WAPDA with a unbeaten double hundred which contained 23 fours. This defeat remained WAPDA’s only loss for the whole season. Zakir and Fawad Alam could possibly claim to be the best 4 and 5 pairing in domestic cricket and they put on a partnership of over 150 against United Bank with Zakir being caught behind on 99. The duo remained in fine form coming into the Super Eight stage. A tricky chase of 174 against Karachi Whites seemed in peril as SSGC found themselves at 29-3. Zakir and Alam moved the score onto 168-4 when Zakir was run out for 75. This though was a match winning knock. Another hundred came against Sui Northern Gas Pipelines in a low scoring innings victory and although his team narrowly missed out on the final Zakir contributed to the majority of their wins.
Kamran Akmal, WAPDA, 9 mats, 14 inns, 1035 runs, 79.61 Ave, 5 100s.
Kamran Akmal has become a joke figure in world cricket for his incredibly poor wicket keeping and farcical tour of Australia in 2009/10. In all fairness to the senior Akmal brother he has been known to provide some entertainment with the bat in the shorter formats and this season he has had licence to be very aggressive in the middle order of this strong WAPDA side. The first game of the season provided a taste of what was to come. Arriving at the crease with WAPDA 43-3 he counter attacked, scoring 115 at a strike rate of 72. Kamran Akmal hit another quickfire hundred (103 from 114 balls) against Islamabad and in his next game he scored 74 of WAPDA’s 180 in the first innings and smashed 116* in the second to successfully chase down 223. This was a superb innings under pressure as WAPDA were 62-4 when he came out having lost Zahid Mansoor and Salman Butt to run outs. Akmal’s match wining contributions from 5 and 6 continued as he hit 16 fours in an excellent 94 from 95 balls against United Bank and then 162 out of the team’s 273 in the first Super Eight game. Another big hundred came in the last Super Eight match against SSGC where his 144 helped seal his side’s place in the final. The result of this remarkable form has been to spark rumours that Kamran Akmal could make a return to Pakistan’s white ball teams, at the very least his scores should allow him to continue to secure t20 franchise contracts around the world.
Imran Farhat, Habib Bank, 10 mat, 15 inns, 562 runs, 40.14 Ave, 3 100s.
The veteran Imran Farhat has played a crucial role in Habib Bank qualifying for the final. He began the season with a hundred and ended it with a duck (lbw to Mohammad Asif) but Imran gets into the team ahead of a cluster of other batmen with good records this year. Imran’s consistency for his side, which began the campaign with Ahmed Shehzad as captain, was so crucial. Along with Imam-ul-Haq’s contributions as an opener, Imran Farhat has been the main cause of Habib Bank’s success.
Iftikhar Ahmed, SNGPL, 9 mat, 17 inns, 713 runs, 44.56, 3 100s.
In at 7 and as a second spinner comes Iftikhar Ahmed, despite his lack of wickets and upper middle order position for Sui Northern Gas Pipelines this year. Iftikhar was an intriguing selection for Pakistan for the final Test at the Oval this summer and he did not really contribute in the 10 wicket win. Though he no longer seems to be in Pakistan’s immediate plans he has come back to the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and performed brilliantly with the bat. Iftikhar started of the season with a nicely paced 127 in a comfortable victory for SNGPL against Federally Administered Tribal Areas, batting at 4. He continued to consistently get useful runs throughout the first phase of the tournament though his side were prone to poor batting collapses and found themselves in quite a few low scoring games. Iftikhar’s 100 in over four hours after SNGPL were made to follow on in the Super Eight stage typifies this. Despite not qualifying for the final it was Iftikhar’s 181 which gave SNGPL a winning end to the season against Karachi Whites.
Khalid Usman, WAPDA, 9 mat, 14 inns, 34 wkts, BBI 8-63, 20.05 Ave, 50.5 SR.
The first bowler in this team of the season is the slow left arm orthodox spinner Khalid Usman of Water and Power Development Authority. Certainly the stand out spin bowler in this year’s competition, Khalid began the year with what would be his best figures, 8-63, as WAPDA crushed Lahore Blues. He was in impressive form throughout the title winning season despite not getting the chance to bowl in the 4th innings often due to WAPDA winnings so many games by an innings. One particularly impressive performance was his 4-35 from 11.5 overs against the Karachi Whites where he out bowled the veteran Zulfiqar Babar who was far more expensive in that innings.
Mohammad Abbas, Khan Research Labs, 10 mat, 19 inns, 71 wkts, BBI 8-46, 12.74 Ave, 30.0 SR
Pakistan are lucky to have a large number of seamers with over 200 career first class wickets at an average of the mid 20s who cannot get close to the Test team. Mohammad Abbas is one of them although the incredible season he has had with the ball will undoubtedly have gained some international attention. Abbas is a right arm fast bowler who looks to reach the 135-140 kph range. As his average and strike rate suggest he has been unplayable this year, largely down to his ability to swing the ball both ways. Mohammad Abbas has achieved eight five wicket hauls this season but perhaps his most incredible performance came against Karachi Whites in mid-October. In Karachi’s first innings he, along with Sadaf Hussain, bowled a spell of 15.5 overs, achieving figures of 6-47, as the Whites were all out for 77. Incredibly Abbas topped this in the second innings. Karachi, chasing 306 were all out for 156 thanks to figures of 8-46 from the fast bowler. Khan Research Labs came third in their group in the Super Eight stage but Mohammad Abbas finished the season brilliantly with 7-52 against National Bank.
Tabish Khan, Karachi Whites, 9 mat, 17 inns, 62 wkts, BBI 7-56, 13.54 Ave, 30.5 SR.
It seems incredible that Tabish Khan cannot be said to be the best bowler of the season with the figures he achieved. Despite managing 9 less wickets than Mohammad Abbas this was a brilliant effort from Tabish in a Karachi Whites side who generally struggled. Tabish will also be overshadowed by Abbas due to the fact that at 32, there will be less hype around an international call up but the career figures of 478 wickets at 23.73 should be highlighted. Again it seems unbelievable that such a bowler has never been given a Test opportunity in the past. In his fifteenth year as a First Class cricketer Tabish began with 11 wickets against Pakistan International Airlines. In the match in mid October where Abbas got 14 wickets he got 8. Tabish carried the Karachi Whites into the Super Eight stage. I wonder how he will feel watching Rahat Ali and Wahab Riaz toil at the Gabba?
Mir Hamza, United Bank, 7 mat, 12 inns, 48 wkts, BBI 7-59, 14.45 Ave, 34.5 SR.
Last but not least Mir Hamza comes in at 11. He only played 7 matches in the tournament because of his involvement with Pakistan A at the beginning of the season. Hamza is a 24 year old left arm medium fast bowler who is a huge prospect. He can get the ball to swing a long way, which he demonstrated to great effect on Pakistan A’s tour of England this year, although he is still somewhat erratic. The fact that he has taken 216 career first class wickets at 19.15 shows just how much of a talent he is. Coming into the United Bank side Hamza was immediately devastating, taking 11-104 in his first Quaid-e-Azam match of the season against Islamabad. United Bank’s seam bowling looks very impressive with 17 year old Sameen Gul also causing a stir, but Hamza was certainly the overall star performer.