The Rationale Behind GRC's 2021/22 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy Team of the Tournament

With Khyber Pakhtunkhwa crowned champions yet again, we take a look at the standout performers of the tournament.

The 2021/22 edition of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy saw some fascinating narratives play out. The tournament started with much fanfare in Punjab, but the outcomes were disappointing. With many of the top domestic cricketers unavailable due to the Shaheens’ tour of Sri Lanka and issues with the weather and pitches, only one match in the first five rounds brought about a result.

However, things looked brighter once the tournament moved to Karachi – quite literally. Pitches were similar to last season, although they were a bit more bowling-friendly. Teams started focusing on results, and 14 of the 15 games ended with results. However, at the end of the day, the conclusion was a familiar one: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were crowned champions once again, making it their fifth consecutive major domestic title.

The tournament saw a host of new names performing on the biggest stage for the first time. It also saw some veterans making a strong comeback. Thus, we come to the topic of this write-up. Our lineup aims to reward the best performers of the tournament, keeping a variety of factors in mind (qualifier: minimum four matches).

1. Mohammad Huraira

The first name to make the cut is an obvious one. 19-year-old Mohammad Huraira made his First Class debut just over two months ago at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore. In the final, he departed the crease at National Stadium, Karachi, with 986 runs to his name, finishing as the top run-scorer.

The youngster came to the fore with two hundreds in the Punjab leg of the tournament. However, he became a household name after his 311 against Balochistan in a must-win game for Northern in Karachi. He scored runs consistently throughout the tournament and was good against pace (average 52) and imperious against spin (average 93)!

2. Shan Masood

The veteran opener was unavailable for the initial stages of the tournament due to a family tragedy. However, he was transferred to the struggling Balochistan team midway through. He sure made it count! The 32-year-old batted like a man possessed, scoring runs non-stop and at an exceptional strike rate. He finished with 502 runs @ 72.

While he missed the Punjab leg, where openers averaged 60+ apiece, Masood had no issues in scoring at various Karachi venues. He finished the Karachi leg as the third-highest run-scorer, while his average was the highest among all batsmen who played more than five innings in Karachi. Moreover, he scored more than a quarter of Balochistan’s runs in the four games he played!

3. Sahibzada Farhan

The 25-year-old from Charsadda has had a memorable 2021. He started the year with a fantastic Pakistan Cup, scoring hundreds in the semi-final and final. He was then the top run-scorer of the National T20 Cup and almost ended the year with the same achievement in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy before Huraira’s late burst across the finish line.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa batter was stunning in the Punjab leg, amassing 606 runs @ 87. Additionally, he proved to be a handful for the spinners – none of the top 15 run-scorers against spin bettered his average of 116. He will be disappointed at not having crossed the 1000-run mark for the season, but another trophy should offer some consolation!

4. Umar Amin ©

A classy left-hander complements any lineup, and Umar Amin fits the bill. The 32-year-old batter finished the season with 811 runs, the fourth-highest. Once touted as one of Pakistan’s brightest batting prospects, the veteran has found a niche for himself in a leadership role at Northern. He captained the side in Nauman Ali’s absence.

Amin began the season slowly, taking a backseat as Northern’s other batsmen racked up the runs in the Punjab leg. However, he was in his element in the Karachi leg of the tournament, finishing with 484 runs @ 61 – the best among middle-order batters.

5. Saad Khan

22-year-old Saad Khan had a tournament to remember. In the absence of Shaheens captain Saud Shakeel, the youngster took the mantle of batting at number 3 for Sindh early on. He made it count, hitting two hundreds in his first four innings. He was then moved around the batting order to accommodate other batsmen but didn’t let that impact his performances.

The left-hander’s batting is easy on the eye, and he played one of the innings of the tournament in the broadcasted match against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Karachi. With Sindh on the ropes after conceding a big first-innings lead, the youngster shepherded the tail expertly, hitting 89* to stretch the lead to a target beyond the eventual champions’ each. He impressed in both legs of the tournament and averaged 60+ against both pace and spin.

6. Mubasir Khan

Not many would have thought that a 19-year-old would be the Player of the Tournament. However, two were in contention, and it was the Northern off-spin-bowling all-rounder who clinched the award. The youngster finished the tournament with 458 runs and 30 wickets to his name.

He started the tournament with 112 against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the eventual champions remained his favorite opponents throughout; he also made scores of 96 and 52 against them. With the ball, he picked up wickets consistently early on before registering figures of 6/43 TWICE during the Karachi leg to finish on a high.

7. Bismillah Khan (wk)

With wicket-keepers generally struggling with the bat in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Bismillah Khan stood out as he finished the tournament with 559 runs @ 47. The 31-year-old right-hander hit two hundreds, one apiece in the Punjab and Karachi legs.

Now a veteran of more than 80 First Class matches, the man from Quetta also took on a leadership role after Imran Butt gave up captaincy to focus on his batting. Despite Balochistan’s struggles, the captain was dependable. When he was injured for Balochistan’s final match, they felt his absence massively.

8. Sohail Khan

The Sindh man turns 38 in a few months’ time, but he may well be taking tips from Jimmy Anderson based on how he bowled this season! The veteran picked up 30 wickets at an incredible average of under 23 and also surpassed the momentous milestone of 500 First Class wickets.

The pacer picked up a five-wicket haul against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and registered a further three four-wicket hauls. Moreover, he hit twin fifties in the penultimate round against Central Punjab, with his effort propelling Sindh to an 11-run win, keeping them in the hunt for the final until the end.

9. Ali Usman

A left-arm spinner has to be a staple in any Pakistani First Class team, and Ali Usman turned out to be that man for Southern Punjab. Coming into this season with just 8 First Class games to his name, the 28-year-old from Vehari finished as the leading wicket-taker in the tournament with 43 scalps.

In a struggling Southern Punjab attack, the left-armer often played a lone hand. A highlight of his season was his 10-fer against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, his best performance may well have been a match haul of 7/89 against Northern, which brought about the only result in the Punjab leg. Almost 80% of his wickets were top 7 batters.

10. Mohammad Ali

Not many would have fancied the Central Punjab pacer to finish as the leading wicket-taker this season. But he did just that, albeit among fast-bowlers. The 29-year-old from Sialkot was impressive throughout the tournament after a slow start and finished with 32 wickets @ 23.

He started his run of performances with a brilliant haul of 9/94 against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Multan, then continued to impress throughout the Karachi leg. He was imperious with the old ball, picking up 24 wickets @ 16 between overs 21 and 80 – far ahead of any other pacer. Moreover, 25 of his wickets were of top 7 batters, at an average of just 21.

11. Kashif Ali

27-year-old Kashif Ali only recently transitioned to hard-ball cricket. However, Northern may have felt that the right-arm pacer has been playing top-level First Class cricket for ages! After making his debut early on, he continued to impress throughout the tournament, finishing with 24 wickets @ 22.

Among the pacers with 20+ wickets, none had a better bowling average than him. In just his second First Class appearance, the youngster picked up a five-wicket haul against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and he continued to impress, particularly with the new ball, until the end of the tournament.

Honorable Mentions

Abid Ali was one of the standout openers, hitting 778 runs @ 86. However, he missed out due to having played most of his matches in the Punjab leg. The opposite was the case with Rizwan Hussain, who made 521 runs @ 58 in the Karachi leg, but he missed out due to Shan Masood’s excellence. Faizan Riaz hit an impressive 829 runs @ 64. However, he missed out due to teammate Umar Amin’s outstanding displays in the Karachi leg.

Among all-round options, Salman Ali Agha, Yousuf Babar, and Iftikhar Ahmed played some terrific knocks but missed out to the other middle-order options due to their sustained excellence, while Mubasir Khan’s bowling gave him the edge. Asif Afridi also missed out for the same reason, with Mubasir also providing more variety to the bowling attack.

Sameen Gul was the second-highest wicket-taker among pacers with 31 scalps @ 32 but missed out to the other pace bowlers courtesy of their better bowling averages. Sajid Khan was also a strong contender for the frontline spinner with 27 wickets @ 27, including a 9-fer in the final, but Ali Usman recorded a higher percentage of dismissals against frontline batters at a better bowling average.