An interesting tussle is on the cards as Balkh Legends take on Paktia Panthers in the 12th match of the 2018 edition of the Afghanistan Premier League (APL). The two teams lock horns against each other on Saturday at 17:30 IST.
Balkh and Paktia have already played each other once. On Wednesday, the Panthers emerged triumphant by a comprehensive margin of 37 runs. This time around, a much closer contest could be in the offing.
With his ultra-aggressive approach at the top of the order, Mohammad Shahzad is a game-changer in Twenty20 cricket. The Paktia skipper has hammered 162 runs from three matches at a strike-rate of 178.02. Expect him to take the bull by its horns right from the outset.
Chris Gayle has been attracting quite a lot of attention in the last few days. Even as West Indies skipper Jason Holder feels he is 'tapering off' slightly, the Caribbean stalwart is in no mood to throw in the towel just yet. Coming into the APL on the back of a List-A ton for Jamaica, he has added a couple of sparkling 20s before succumbing.
Colin Munro's ability to take the attack to the opposition bowlers makes him a dynamic option at number three. If he finally breaks the shackles, Paktia will be on tenterhooks. The likes of Cameron Delport and Ryan ten Doeschate are safety valves in the middle-order. Considering their capacity to read the game, they can be expected to contribute consistently.
For someone of his stature, Balkh captain Mohammad Nabi is strangely batting lower down the order. If he promotes himself, the all-rounder can make a stronger choice for captaincy in the fantasy lineup. However, he continues to remain a bankable player in the bowling department.
While it's unlikely that he would make any significant impact with the bat, Shahid Afridi's accurate leg-spin alone turns him into a must-have on the sluggish pitches in Sharjah. Even if he does not feature prominently in the wickets column, the Pakistan icon can strangle opposition batsmen in the middle-overs.
Utilising all his experience, Sri Lankan seamer Isuru Udana is turning heads in the APL. His mixture of slower ones and penetrative yorkers may face a stiff challenge if Gayle and Munro get going. But there's a definite possibility of him adding to his burgeoning tally of wickets.
Arguably, Gulbadin Naib has been the stand-out bowler in the season thus far. His clever change in pace is working wonders on these slow tracks as the ball tends to grip in Sharjah. Having shredded Nangarhar Leopards with a crucial spell, seamer Mirwais Ashraf will be entering this match on a high.
Captaincy Preference Order: Mohammad Shahzad, Mohammad Nabi, Ryan ten Doeschate
Fantasy XI for Balkh Legends vs Paktia Panthers: Mohammad Shahzad (c) (wk), Chris Gayle, Colin Munro, Cameron Delport, Ryan ten Doeschate, Samiullah Shenwari, Mohammad Nabi, Shahid Afridi, Gulbadin Naib, Isuru Udana and Mirwais Ashraf