With the Kandahar Knights embarking on a seemingly never-ending dismal run, the four semi-finalists of the inaugural edition of the Afghanistan Premier League (APL) are virtually affirmed. However, the tussle between Nangarhar Leopards and Paktia Panthers holds considerable significance as the teams strive to finish as high as possible in the points table.
Nangarhar take on Paktia at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Sunday from 21:30 IST. In the previous encounter between the two teams, the Panthers rode on skipper Mohammad Shahzad's blitz and emerged triumphant by 21 runs.
Having begun the tournament in sublime form, Shahzad enters the match on the back of a couple of low scores. Nevertheless, he remains a potent threat at the top of the order. The battle between the belligerent opener and mystery spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman should make for fascinating viewing.
Anton Devcich occupies the top spot in the list of run-scorers in the season thus far. The admirable aspect of his batting has been the manner in which he has moulded his stroke-play to meet the vagaries of the conditions. Expect another steady contribution from the experienced Kiwi.
Johnson Charles has reiterated his explosive potential with a tone-setting 27-ball 43 against Kabul Zwanan. Meanwhile, Hashmatullah Shahidi continues to chip in with crucial knocks for the Leopards.
With two fifties from five matches, Sikandar Raza is giving a solid account of his prowess. He can also provide a few tidy overs and break blossoming partnerships. Australia's Ben Cutting is turning into a bankable all-round option. In addition to his lusty hitting, the seamer also has the game to create in-roads.
Shahid Afridi's stifling leg-spin is worthy enough to draft him into the fantasy lineup. Despite his hitting being on the wane, the Pakistani stalwart remains a feasible choice to pile pressure during the middle-overs.
Isuru Udana has picked ten wickets from just four matches. The left-armer can land the early breakthroughs before returning to finish the job in the death overs. Chinaman exponent Zahir Khan is rapidly establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with. He can be relied upon to register another noteworthy spell.
Undoubtedly, the star of the show will be 17-year old Mujeeb Ur Rahman. Following a middling start to the season, he exploded into life during the last three matches. The talented off-spinner has stitched together remarkable spells of 2/19, 3/29 and 4/16. All eyes will be on the youngster as he squares off against Paktia's strong batting lineup.
Captaincy Preference Order: Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Isuru Udana, Anton Devcich
Fantasy XI for Nangarhar Leopards vs Paktia Panthers: Mohammad Shahzad (wk), Anton Devcich, Johnson Charles, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Sikandar Raza, Rahmat Shah, Ben Cutting, Shahid Afridi, Isuru Udana, Zahir Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman (c).