National T20 Cup: Three-way race to the last semi-final spot
After the Multan leg of the National T20 Cup, the Rawalpindi phase has seen hotly contested matches take place, bringing certain teams back into contention for a spot in the final four. While Northern, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have advanced to the knockouts, mystery surrounds the identity of the fourth team in the proverbial 'fab four'.
Amidst this backdrop, the very last game of the round-robin stage between Southern Punjab and Balochistan has high stakes attached to it since the fate of three teams hinges upon its outcome, which will determine their standing in the points table.
Matches: 10, Points: 8, NRR: +0.046
Central Punjab had a disastrous start to their tournament when they faced four defeats in five games in Multan under the leadership of Saad Nasim. Babar Azam's arrival in the team, however, set their record straight and they marched to three wins in his captaincy and outstanding run of form to currently occupy the fourth position.
How they can qualify: Central Punjab's quota of games has come to an end and they will be avidly observing proceedings in the encounter between Balochistan and Southern Punjab. Babar Azam's men will be hoping SP manage to stave off the Balochistan threat and emerge triumphant by a margin not more than 71 runs or less than 7.2 overs to spare to set up a semi-final clash for themselves.
Matches: 9, Points: 8, NRR: -0.611
Balochistan's particularly strong start to the competition has fizzled away to an extent in recent games. Their middle-order has largely been prone to collapses as they have routinely banked on steady opening stands from the duo of Awais Zia and Imam-ul-Haq.
How they can qualify: The equation is simple for Balochistan – they must defeat Southern Punjab in order to secure a semi-final berth. In case of a loss, there is no chance for Balochistan to get in the top four since they possess an inferior net run rate, which is already reflected from their existing fifth place in the six-team table despite having equal points to that of Central Punjab. Additionally, Haris Sohail's side can move to No. 3 and possibly displace Sindh if they clinch a victory by a significant margin.
Matches: 9, Points: 6, NRR: -0.345
Southern Punjab have regularly been troubled by bowling woes as they were at the receiving end of the unwanted record of conceding 200 or more runs in a T20 innings in five successive matches. Having made several changes to their line-up following the winless Multan leg, they have staged a comeback of sorts in the tournament.
How they can qualify: The Shan Masood-captained team has a stiff task ahead of them as they need to win against Balochistan by an emphatic margin of 72 or more runs or conversely chase down whatever target is set in 12.3 or fewer overs. This scenario will catapult them to fourth and demote Central Punjab to fifth. Southern Punjab will thus be hoping for another fine exhibition of power-hitting from explosive batsman Khushdil Shah to hammer Balochistan.