Afghanistan Premier League 2018, popularly known as APL, has had a prosperous run so far. Being in its first season, APL has witnessed a lot of gruelling encounters, a shell full of record books, finest knocks by the batsmen, bowlers doing the prophecy with the ball and the list goes on.
Unquestionably, the biggest highlight of the season has been Hazratullah Zazai's six sixes in an over. Afghanistan Cricket Board must be proud after witnessing an emergence of prodigious talents from their ongoing Afghanistan Premier League 2018.
APL 2018 is in its last week with the knockout stages nearby. To be precise, we are only left to witness five more league matches ahead of the knockout stages - semifinals and final. The top four teams will qualify for semi-finals. Eventually, the winner of Semifinal 1 and Semifinal 2 will contest for the grand finale at Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium in Sharjah, UAE.
With five league matches still to be played, no team is out of the contention for semifinals. Thus, let us have a look at what all the teams need to do to qualify for the semifinals.
#1 Balkh Legends
Balkh Legends have had a decent run at the tournament so far. They have fared brilliantly under the captaincy of Mohammad Nabi. Currently, Balkh Legends are at the top of the points table.
Right from the word go, Balkh Legends kicked off their campaign as a champion team with an immense amount of experience on board. Balkh Legends have shown that what experienced players can bring to the table. Besides, they also possess an excellent blend of national and overseas players.
With legendary overseas players in their side, Balkh Legends have proven to be a nightmare for any opposition in this league. Moreover, with the veteran players like Chris Gayle stepping up, Balkh proves to be an ominous entity in the coming games. To support their batsmen, they have had a decent bowling lineup as well. If batsmen fail to perform, then bowlers step up and vice-versa - an effective strategy employed by Balkh Legends in the league thus far.
With as many as five wins from their first six games, Balkh Legends are currently at the top of the table. Their only loss came against Paktia Panthers. Their remaining league matches are against Nangarhar Leopards and Kandahar Knights on 17th and 18th October respectively.
Qualification Status: Having won five out of their six matches, Balkh Legends have already qualified for the semifinal stages. Even if they lose their remaining two matches with the highest possible margins, they will march ahead to semifinal stage with the worst possible position being third.
Matches Played: 6
Matches Won: 5
Matches Lost: 1
#2 Paktia Panthers
Paktia Panthers have executed their plans well under the tutelage of Mohammad Shahzad. The right-handed wicket-keeper batsman has led them from the front with some fantastic knocks in the tournament.
Panthers possess one of the strongest batting lineups in the league. With T20 specialists in their camp, Paktia Panthers have an immaculate batting strength. Moreover, they have some decent overseas players who make the case much stronger for Paktia. Besides, they have exceptional bowling strength as well. Thus, with a fair amount of talent in both the departments, Paktia Panthers call for an evenly poised side.
Having won four of their first six league matches, Paktia Panthers hold the second place in the points table just below Balkh Legends. Their two losses came against Kabul Zwanan and Balkh Legends. They will be playing their last two league matches against Kandahar Knights and Kabul Zwanan on 17th and 18th October respectively.
Qualification Status: Much like Balkh Legends, Paktia Panthers also have qualified for the semifinals. The worst position that Panthers could end up in the league stages, in case of hefty losses in their remaining two encounters, is fourth. Thus, irrespective of the result of the remaining two games, Panthers have made the semifinal stage.
Matches Played: 6
Matches Won: 4
Matches Lost: 2
NRR: + 0.143
#3 Kabul Zwanan
Kabul Zwanan has had a roller coaster ride in the tournament so far. Under the captaincy of Rashid Khan, Zwanan kicked off their campaign on a winning note. However, they failed to emulate the same in the latter stages and are now struggling to get back to their winning ways.
Unquestionably, Zwanan endures one of the most intimidating lineups in this league with the likes of Hazratullah Zazai, Luke Ronchi, and Laurie Evans. Their 20-year-old recruit, Hazratullah Zazai, irked his name in the books of T20 records. Zazai smashed six sixes in an over while bringing up his fifty in just 12 balls to record the joint fastest T20 fifty. However, their bowling lineup lack such talents. Despite Rashid Khan's presence, their bowling lineup calls for the most inconsistent one in this league.
Having played six league matches so far, Kabul has turned out to be triumphant on three occasions. Zwanan is currently at the third position in the points table. Their remaining two games will be against Kandahar Knights and Paktia Panther on 16th and 18th October respectively.
Qualification Status: Kabul Zwanan's qualification case is a bit tricky. If nothing superhuman happens, Kabul is set to be qualified for the semifinal stage. However, there remains a case where Kabul could have to see the exit gates. If Kabul loses both of its remaining matches with Kandahar Knights winning all of their remaining games and Nangarhar winning its last league game by a heavy margin, then there happens to be a case of Kabul's exit. Nonetheless, it seems to be a distant thing to happen. Moreover, even a solitary win for Kabul will cruise them to the semifinals.
Matches Played: 6
Matches Won: 3
Matches Lost: 3
#4 Nangarhar Leopards
Nangarhar Leopards have had a below average run at the tournament under the tutelage of Ben Cutting. To be fair enough, Andre Russel's unavailability has cost them the most - both in batting and bowling, maybe in captaincy as well.
Leopards have some of the biggest T20 names in their batting department. Despite that, they haven't been able to generate consistent batting performances. Despite the likes of Anton Devcich, Johnson Charles, and Hashmatullah Shahidi, they have lacked uniformity in their batting department. Meanwhile, their bowling has followed the same story. The day when their batting shows some signs of improvement, their bowlers tend to mess that up with average bowling performances and vice-versa.
With two wins from seven games, Leopards are currently standing at the fourth place in the points table. Their last league game will be against Balkh Legends on 17th October.
Qualification Status: Much like Kabul Zwanan, Nangarhar Leopards also have a tricky case on their hand. If they want to qualify for the knockout stages, then Leopards will have to win their last league game and that too with a prominent margin. Besides that, Kandahar Knights will also need to lose at-least one of their remaining matches to help the cause for Nangarhar Leopards. If any of the given cases fail to take place in the real world, then Nangarhar will have to face the exit from the tournament.
Matches Played: 7
Matches Won: 2
Matches Lost: 5
#5 Kandahar Knights
Kandahar Knights are having a disappointing APL 2018 thus far. Kandahar Knights, under the captaincy of Ashgar Afghan, have fared exceedingly pitiable in the tournament. However, a sense of hope seems to have hit the Knights after registering their first ever win in the league against Nangarhar Leopards in their last game.
Batting has been a matter of concern for the Knights ever since the start of the tournament. Inefficacy of their overseas players has cost them the most. With the likes of Brendon McCullum and Paul Stirling not firing in the league, Kandahar's batting has seen worst extremes. However, bowling hasn't been a problem for them. With a decent mix of national players in the bowling department, they have been able to decimate even the best batting lineups in the tournament. Thus, bowling will be the key for them if they want to qualify for the next stage.
Kandahar Knights have won only one of their first five league matches which puts them at the bottom of the points table. Their remaining three games will be against Kabul Zwanan, Paktia Panthers, and Balkh Legends on 16th, 17th, and 18th respectively.
Qualification Status: As of now, Kandahar Knights seem to be out of the contention for the knockout stages. Nonetheless, Knights have a fair bit of chance to enter the semis. The only way how Kandahar Knights could reach the knockout stage is by winning all of their remaining games or at-least two of their remaining matches. Thus, if Knights manage to do so, they will hold the fourth (at worst) in the points table. Although this calls for an arduous job, we can't rule it out while respecting the uncertainty of the game.
Matches Played: 5
Matches Won: 1
Matches Lost: 4