Ahead of the 2021/22 domestic season, the side has brought in Usman Salahuddin, Naseem Shah, Azam Khan, & Hassan Khan.
There have been changes aplenty in the Southern Punjab camp ahead of the 2021/22 domestic season. Some of their top performers from last season have been let go, while they have also recruited several new players that will strengthen their team across all departments. In this article, we analyze the new inclusions in the Southern Punjab squad.
While Pakistan have an embarrassing scarcity of Test-class openers, there is no shortage of options when it comes to middle-order batsmen. Just ask Kamran Ghulam, who, despite a record-breaking campaign last season, has not found a space in the touring parties for the last two away series. Salahuddin has played a sole Test for the Green Shirts back in 2018 against England.
The right-hander will be hoping that a shift from Central Punjab to Southern Punjab can help him find a place in the Pakistan Test team going forward. He had a strong campaign last season, finishing as the 4th highest scorer, with 924 runs from 21 innings. He also was only one of two batsmen to score a double century in last season’s tournament, scoring an unbeaten 219 to set up a crushing 10-wicket victory for Central Punjab against his new team, Southern Punjab. No wonder they were so eager to snap him up!
In the last five editions of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Salahuddin has amassed 2910 runs at an average of 54. No player who is currently active has scored more runs than him in this period. Another strength of his is his ability to put value on his wicket. In the last five seasons of the tournament, he averages 125 balls per dismissal, which is comfortably the highest amongst all batsmen – Fawad Alam is 2nd in the list with an average of 102 balls per dismissal.
While we are on the topic of Fawad Alam, Salahuddin recently said in an interview with Grassroots Cricket that the left-hander is an inspiration for him, and, at the age of 30, if the career of Fawad Alam is anything to go by, Salahuddin’s recall to the national team may be coming soon, provided he carries on churning out the runs for his new employers! It seems strange using “30-year-old” and “long-term replacement” in the same sentence, but such is the nature of Pakistan cricket that Salahuddin could years down the line, turn out to fill the void left by Azhar Ali, who will turn 37 next year.
P.S: As mentioned, Pakistan’s opening woes do not seem to be disappearing, and while #3 is his preferred position, he has said he would be willing to open the batting if asked. Could he be a potential out-of-the-box solution to the long-lasting problem?
Following Usman Salahuddin from Central Punjab to Southern Punjab is Naseem Shah! Still in his teens, the fast bowler has already had a very up and down career. He was brought into the Pakistan team despite very little experience in domestic cricket, tragically lost his mother, and the peak of his career came in February 2020, where he took a hat-trick against Bangladesh in Rawalpindi to set up an innings victory against Mominul Haque’s men.
It seemed Pakistan cricket had found its next superstar, but in the two away series following COVID, he failed to meet expectations, averaging 69.33 in England and 73 in the 2-0 defeat at the hands of New Zealand, where he also went at more than 4.5 runs per over! Unsurprisingly, he hasn’t played for Pakistan since then and, further rubbing salt in the wound, has also lost his PCB central contract.
His struggles do not necessarily mean his hat-trick was a fluke. The potential is clearly there. After a phenomenal breakout season in the 2019 edition, where he took 18 wickets at an average of less than 20 in a season where pace bowlers, overall, averaged 40+, Naseem did not play a single game in the 2020 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, for a variety of reasons. He’ll be hoping to play four-day cricket this year and make an impression.
As one of the fastest bowlers in Pakistan – he regularly clocks 140+ kph, Southern Punjab will be hoping that he can transform their fortunes with the ball. Last season, Southern Punjab’s pacers struggled across all three formats. He will have the chance to be the leader of the pace attack, and this added responsibility may be exactly what he needs to get back to his best form!
The recruitment of the explosive middle-order batsman makes sense for both the player and the team. As a batsman, his inclusion will undoubtedly add firepower to the playing XI, especially in the shorter formats of the game. He has experience in several leagues across the world, including CPL and LPL, and his strike rate of 151 is the second-highest for a Pakistani batsman in T20s since 2019, marginally behind Asif Ali only. However, it is another aspect of his game which the move to Southern Punjab can only strengthen.
Azam Khan’s chances to don the keeping gloves were limited at Sindh, where former national captain Sarfaraz Ahmed would always be the first choice behind the sticks. Southern Punjab had a few different players keeping wickets for them last season, but none of them particularly lit up the domestic scene.
This move could benefit Azam Khan as Pakistan aims to find a long-term successor to Mohammad Rizwan. There is no shortage of talented young wicket-keepers in the country, and staying at Sindh & playing as a fielder may have seen Azam Khan drop significantly lower than the likes of Rohail Nazir in the pecking order. Instead, a fresh start at Southern Punjab, where he is expected to be the first choice wicket-keeper, at least in white-ball cricket, may be exactly what Azam needs to discover his full potential.
Of course, as well as regular chances to keep wicket, another thing that Azam Khan MUST work on to fulfill his potential is his fitness. He himself is aware of this – in an interview with Grassroots Cricket, he admitted he would only give himself 2 or 3 out of 10 for his fitness. While he is expected to keep in the shorter formats, he has a lot of work to do if he is to be fit enough to keep regularly in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. That means staying away from the local delicacies that Punjab has to offer. As delicious as halwa poori may be, not many fitness experts would advocate for it!
Azam isn’t the only ‘Khan’ heading from Sindh to Southern Punjab. He is joined by all-rounder Hassan Khan. This move will further help the team balance for Southern Punjab. While his tidy left-arm spin has usually been considered his biggest strength, his batting has recently improved leaps and bounds.
He made a good impression last season, batting in the lower order, especially in white-ball cricket. In the National T20 Cup, he played a couple of important knocks, with a superb strike rate of 187! In the Pakistan Cup, he also rescued Sindh from tough situations on multiple occasions. In total, he made 269 runs at a very decent strike rate of 97. As if that wasn’t enough, he also enjoyed a good tournament with the ball, picking up 13 wickets to finish as the 7th-highest wicket-taker.
With the experienced Aamer Yamin also in the ranks, the inclusion of Hassan Khan will further strengthen the balance of Southern Punjab when it comes to the playing XI. While Hassan Khan is a spin-bowling all-rounder, Aamer Yamin is a seam-bowling all-rounder. The combination of both will allow Southern Punjab to bat deep!
In an interview with Grassroots Cricket, Hassan Khan revealed his long-term goals are to play for Pakistan and perform well. While he does not appear to be in contention for the National Team currently, could the shift from Sindh to Southern Punjab be the catalyst for the elusive Pakistan call-up?
With the addition of these players, how do you think Southern Punjab will fare in each competition this season?