The inaugural edition of the Afghanistan Premier League (APL) is going on in full swing at the grand old Sharjah Cricket Stadium. The tenth match of the league will see Kandahar Knights take on Paktia Panthers at 17:30 IST on Friday.
A combined fantasy XI between Kandahar and Paktia will be heavily skewed towards the latter's favour. While the Knights are at the bottom of the table with two defeats in as many matches, the Panthers have won two out of three matches and consequently occupy the top spot.
One of the opener's slots is a no-brainer. Paktia skipper Mohammad Shahzad seems to be batting on a different level at the moment. After beginning the tournament with a 39-ball 67 against Kabul Zwanan, the belligerent right-hander smashed 53 from 31 balls against Nangarhar Leopards and a 21-ball 42 in the recently completed game against Balkh Legends.
Accompanying Shahzad at the top of the order will be his fellow opening partner Ihsanullah Janat. Even though Paul Stirling has shown flashes of his potential, Janat is a safer bet as he has looked in better touch and can bide his time due to Shahzad's unstoppable aggression.
Despite struggling to pick the slower ball on these sluggish surfaces, McCullum can be banked upon due to his vast experience as a Twenty20 journeyman. If he gets past Isuru Udana's change in pace, there are not many threats in the opposition camp.
Cameron Delport batted responsibly in the match against Balkh Legends. Although he can be a slow starter, the South African can impart significant damage when he settles in against the spinners.
Samiullah Shenwari and Kevin O'Brien can offer lower-order muscle. The right-handed duo provide great value for money as they do not waste any deliveries and have the power to clear the fence at any point in time.
Do not expect much from Shahid Afridi in the batting department. His famed hand-eye coordination is waning and hence he may no longer pick the length as quickly as he did in the past. But his accurate stump-to-stump leg-spin should be ideal for the low bounce tracks at Sharjah.
Paktia's hard-hitters will be wary of Amir Hamza's presence in the middle-overs. The 27-year-old left-arm spinner may not be a big name in Afghanistan cricket but his vast experience and ability to vary his lengths makes him a threat on slow surfaces.
Tymal Mills' extra pace may turn him into a tantalising option in any fantasy lineup. However, it must be noted that his strength becomes a weakness in Asian conditions. The left-arm speedster is struggling to adapt to the sluggish pitches in Sharjah.
Instead, Isuru Udana should be a certainty in this team. The Sri Lankan seamer has picked up six wickets from two matches. Beyond mere numbers, his impact at crucial stages has been crucial for the Panthers. Be it in the Power Play or in the death overs, he appears to be at ease with the match situation.
Two contrasting seam options complete the fantasy lineup. While Waqar Salamkheil's dibbly-dobbly stuff is perfectly in sync with the demands of such torpid tracks, Ziaur Rahman Sharifi has impressed with his control during the tough Power Play overs.
Captaincy Preference Order: Mohammad Shahzad, Isuru Udana, Cameron Delport
Fantasy XI for Kandahar Knights vs Paktia Panthers: Mohammad Shahzad (c) (wk), Ihsanullah Janat, Brendon McCullum, Cameron Delport, Samiullah Shenwari, Kevin O'Brien, Shahid Afridi, Amir Hamza, Isuru Udana, Waqar Salamkheil and Ziaur Rahman Sharifi