KARACHI: United Bank Limited (UBL) will be hoping their honeymoon period lingers on for a while after having maintained a clean slate during the league phase of the One-day Departmental Cup as title favourites prepare to take on Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) in the first semi-final here on Thursday
In an eleventh hour change of schedule by the Pakistan Cricket Board’s domestic committee, the semi-finals won’t be played simultaneously on the same day as planned earlier and now both fixtures would be played at the NBP Sports Complex instead, with the second last-four clash between Wapda and first-time qualifiers Pakistan Television (PTV) taking place on Friday.
The title-deciding clash at the UBL Sports Complex has also been put back a day and would now be staged on Sunday instead of Saturday.
Tuesday’s last-round of matches threw up heartbreaking moments for former winners Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) and dethroned seven-time champions Habib Bank Limited (HBL) who, in fact, faced each other and despite emerging victorious by a slender margin of four runs at the UBL Sports Complex, SNGPL — champions in 2007-08, 2009-10 and 2012-13 — failed to qualify for the knockout round, two weeks after annexing the first-class Quaid-i-Azam Trophy National Cricket Championship crown.
PTV were the biggest beneficiaries of SNGPL’s catastrophe even though SSGC walloped them by eight wickets at the Niaz Stadium in Hyderabad. Their overall net run-rate calculations were far better than what SNGPL ended up with and a big difference of +0.257 catapulted PTV on the threshold of making history since this is the first time they have qualified for the knockout stage of a major domestic competition.
UBL are just two steps away from lifting just their third one-day trophy after being the limited-overs champions in 1988-89 and 2011-12 when the tournament was played across two tiers with UBL winning the second division trophy.
Shan Masood has been the real inspiration for them, especially with the bat, which had comfortably put the Test opener on top of tournament’s batting charts with 473 runs at 157.66 with two centuries, three half-centuries and only two failures.
And whenever Younis Khan chose to sit out a game here and there, Shan has led UBL with calmness that is admirable with the astute Younis adding his bits in the mentor’s role. Unsurprisingly, they are on a roll with victories by 64 runs (against PTV), nine wickets (HBL), 94 runs (NBP), 53 runs (SSGC), five wickets (SNGPL), eight wickets (Wapda) and 112 runs (KRL).
The advantage of playing on their ‘home’ territory at the UBL Sports Complex certainly did aided UBL’s cause to a large degree but the scheduling of league-round matches has denied them the opportunity of getting a single game at the NBP Sports Complex until the knockout stage.
Therefore, SSGC — who were the runners-up to HBL last year — head into Thursday’s all-important encounter with a fair idea of the surface because they were in action there only six days ago when annihilated KRL by nine wickets with match itself lasting only 55.2 overs.
Complacency is another factor that could derailed UBL’s mission but the way they bounced back last Thursday (Jan 3) from a difficult situation during the league fixture against SSGC, who lost the last eight wickets for 30 runs in chasing, is a testimony of their approach in handling the pressure.
And with Umar Akmal peaking at the right time with scores of 97, 82 — against SSGC — 124 and 42 in the middle fixtures since the New Year, UBL have the firepower to extinguish the SSGC challenge again and set up the golden chance of being appropriately crowned champions at the UBL Sports Complex.
Friday’s semi-final has all the ingredients of being a fascinating battle between Wapda and PTV. In their head-to-head meeting in Hyderabad last Friday, Salman Butt’s 102 led Wapda to a nervy three-wicket victory after PTV had totalled exactly 300.
Both these teams had played twice, and won both their fixtures, at the NBP Sports Complex during the league stage, so they have got enough knowledge of the conditions, although the pitch at this venue has the tendency of being up-and-down more often, especially in the first hour because the sea breeze encourages seam bowling in presence of heavy moisture underneath the surface.
But in the first-round game there on Dec 28, the general conditions were in favour of the batsmen as NBP and HBL collectively amassed 637 runs in 98.3 overs for the loss of 12 wickets but since then totals have been rather modest ones with Wapda’s 277-9 versus KRL on Jan 1 the next highest tally.
While Wapda may have a definite edge given their star-studded billing, PTV are more than happy to be carry the ‘underdogs’ tag. Former Pakistan batsman Mohammad Wasim, who is the head coach, probably pulled off a master stroke when he decided to thrust the captaincy on young Saud Shakeel’s shoulders.
The 22-year-old left-handed spinning all-rounder, who also Pakistan at the Under-19 level for a short span, has been PTV’s shining light with 341 runs and 10 wickets and another inspirational performance from him could cause a huge upset.