KARACHI: The opening day of any major sporting competition brings renewed hope of building on improvement from the previous season. But Central Punjab’s defence of Quaid-e-Azam Trophy cricket title on Sunday got off on a note of despondency against the cut and swerve of Tabish Khan.
Elsewhere in the city, Southern Punjab were in full control already after dismissing last year’s runners-up Northern for 165 and then overhauling that paltry score by closing at 174-1, while Balochistan made brilliant recovery through Bismillah Khan and Kashif Bhatti to post 310-7 against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Spearheading the Sindh bowling line-up, Tabish — one of the most tragic stories of Pakistan cricket — had the Azhar Ali-led reigning champions on the ropes at 205-9 in their first innings at draw of stumps in the four-day clash here at the National Stadium.
Tabish — the 35-year-old right-arm paceman who has never been afforded any opportunity to play at the international level — grabbed the last four wickets in the post-tea session after making the initial breakthrough within 28 minutes of start following Sarfaraz Ahmed’s decision to bowl first on a green-tinged strip.
Sarfaraz’s counterpart Azhar horribly misread the early morning conditions by forfeiting the chance to make the first call as the visiting captain — a decision which necessitated match referee Nadeem Arshad to order a proper toss that was won by Sarfaraz.
With his Test captaincy on the line, the embattled Azhar endured a miserable first outing with the bat when he played onto his stumps, as left-arm fast bowler Mir Hamza switched over to bowl round the wicket, after scoring just 11 from 26 balls. It was a surprise to see Azhar leave the scene so swiftly after having sent the previous ball for a gorgeous cover drive.
Ahmed Shehzad was the solitary exception among the top four batsmen to apply put his head down to top score with a 155-ball knock of 69 in 228 minutes. But he was guilty of throwing his wicket when a wild heave against the occasional spin of Fawad Alam landed in the lap of Hasan Mohsin at point.
Mohammad Saad also weighed in with a half-century Tabish sent him back for a 142-ball 51 just after terminating first-class debutant Qasim Akram’s 42-minute stay — after the 18-year-old right-hander made seven off 32 balls — with a low acrobatic effort by Sarfaraz behind the stumps.
Tabish ended the day with 5-44 from 22 overs in what was his 29th five-for in first-class cricket.
Bismillah and Kashif shared the limelight at the UBL Sports Complex after Balochistan, opting to bat first, had slumped to 43-4 and then 109-5.
Bismillah had the honour of making the first ton of the championship — and third of his career — as the pugnacious wicket-keeper/batsman hit up an undefeated 102 in 298 minutes with his 200-ball innings featuring 12 boundaries.
Kashif was unlucky at missing out a third first-class century when he was bowled by off-spinner Sajid Khan for a feisty 98 while sharing a partnership of 160 in 172 minutes with Bismillah. Kashif, 34-year-old slow left-armer who bats right-handed, struck as many as 19 fours in his 126-ball knock. Upfront discarded Pakistan opener Sami Aslam contributed 56.
Northern captain Nauman Ali was left red-faced when his team folded up in less than 50 overs after deciding to bat first versus Southern Punjab at the NBP Sports Complex as only five batsmen crossed the 20-run mark but none got more than 29, a figure that was only matched by Umar Amin and Faizan Riaz.
Leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood, who was one of unsung heroes of the recent National T20 Cup, snared four wickets for 41 runs in 9.4 overs, while off-spinning all-rounder Agha Salman bagged 3-34.
Skipper Shan Masood then led from the front in successive 80-plus stands with fellow left-handers Umar Siddique and Hussain Talat as Southern Punjab continued their domination. Umar went for 40 after adding 85 with his skipper before Hussain (53) partnered Shan (80) in the unfinished partnership of 89.
Close of play scores on Sunday (day one of four):
First XI, first round:
At National Stadium: CENTRAL PUNJAB 205-9 in 86 overs (Ahmed Shehzad 69, Mohammad Saad 51, Kamran Akmal 24; Tabish Khan 5-44) vs SINDH.
At UBL Sports Complex: BALOCHISTAN 310-7 in 89 overs (Bismillah Khan 102 not out, Kashif Bhatti 98, Sami Aslam 56; Junaid Khan 2-43, Imran Khan 2-52, Ahmed Jamal 2-54) vs KHYBER PAKHTUNKHWA.
At NBP Sports Complex: NORTHERN 165 in 48.4 overs (Umar Amin 29, Faizan Riaz 29, Sarmad Bhatti 25, Zeeshan Malik 24, Hammad Azam 24; Zahid Mahmood 4-41, Agha Salman 3-34); SOUTHERN PUNJAB 174-1 in 40 overs (Shan Masood 80 not out, Hussain Talat 53 not out, Umar Siddique 40).