The action is heating up in the inaugural edition of the Afghanistan Premier League (APL). With the last few matches remaining in the group stage, the competing teams will aim to enter the semi-finals on a high.
Balkh Legends square off against Kandahar Knights on Thursday from 17:30 IST at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. During the previous encounter between these two teams, the Legends rode on Gulbadin Naib's slower ball to pip the Knights by 13 runs.
When Chris Gayle is in town, all eyes will naturally be on the showman. If his six-hitting spree against Kabul Zwanan was anything to go by, the belligerent opener is warming up nicely to take the tournament by storm.
Having seen his opening batsmen flounder continuously, Kandahar skipper Asghar Afghan pushed himself to the top of the order to stem the rot. The move seems to be paying instant dividends and he will be keen on building upon his impressive 60 against Kabul.
If Balkh loses one of their openers early, Darwish Rasooli's exuberant batting can help set the tone and revert pressure on the opposition bowlers. After being rested for the match against Zwanan, middle-order bulwark Ryan ten Doeschate is expected to slot back into the lineup.
Kandahar can rely on Karim Janat's all-round contribution for their final group game. With the 20-year old striking form at the right time, it will be interesting to see his approach against the best team in the tournament.
The experienced Riki Wessels has looked in good touch whenever he has got the opportunity to bat.
Even as most other bowlers struggled to counter the fresher track at Sharjah, Mohammad Nabi showcased his high skill-level by conceding just 27 runs in a crucial four-over spell against Kabul. As he sets out to take the bull by its horns, the veteran can also make a difference with the bat.
Coming up against a familiar opposition, Gulbadin Naib will be hoping to replicate his erstwhile performance.
If the Kandahar batsmen do not read his slower ball properly, then the wily seamer can turn the tide in Balkh's favour. Honing in on a precise length, Mirwais Ashraf has also impressed on these slow pitches at Sharjah.
Qais Ahmad's leg-spin continues to remain a discernible threat for even well-set batsmen. Considering the fragility of Kandahar's middle-order, his spell has the potential to influence the game at a crucial stage.
Captaincy Preference Order: Chris Gayle, Mohammad Nabi, Karim Janat
Fantasy XI for Balkh Legends vs Kandahar Knights: Chris Gayle (c), Asghar Afghan, Darwish Rasooli, Ryan ten Doeschate, Karim Janat, Riki Wessels (wk), Mohammad Nabi, Gulbadin Naib, Mirwas Ashraf, Qais Ahmad and Waqar Salamkheil