The National T20 Cup captivated audiences in Pakistan in a manner that hadn't been seen since the halcyon years of the Sialkot Stallions. With little cricket over the past few months due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the National T20 Cup served a market that had been left unsatiated for months, and people tuned in in their hundreds of thousands to watch the three-week tournament, which ended with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lifting the title after a ten-run win over Southern Punjab. Performances here were keenly observed, and when Pakistan's squad for Zimbabwe's visit was announced less than 24 hours later, it included several of this tournament's best performers. Here, we compile our team of the tournament for you to discuss (and, invariably, disagree with).
Fakhar Zaman (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa)
Runs: 420 Strike Rate: 147.88 Average 35
Fakhar Zaman has been in a rut in T20I cricket for over two years now. He's crossed 25 just once in 15 matches during this time, averaged under 11 and has seen his strike rate in this period plummet to under 115. With the pressure on his place intense, this tournament was the perfect occasion to remind Pakistan's selectors of his abilities. After a slow start, he exploded to life with consecutive half-centuries, and provided the perfect platform for his side in the Powerplay. Five half-centuries, including a 40-ball 67 in the final, saw his team lift the trophy, and Fakhar finish top of the runs charts.
Mohammad Rizwan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa)
Runs: 389 Strike rate: 127.96 Average 38.90
That strike rate may be a concern in what was a very high-scoring tournament, but Mohammad Rizwan has got the Midas touch right now. He's first choice wicketkeeper for Pakistan in all three formats, and went on to lead his side to glory in the National T20 Cup. Batting alongside Fakhar, he could afford to be circumspect, often taking over the mantle after his partner had been dismissed. Four fifties, including an unbeaten 99 against Central Punjab, helped him finish fourth highest run-scorer, and he continued to remain spotless behind the stumps. It was in the outfield, however, that he made the most remarkable impression, taking a diving catch against Sindh which was, by some distance, the catch of the competition.
Haider Ali (Northern)
Runs: 294 Strike rate: 166.10 Average 36.75
It's easy to see why Haider is one of the most exciting young batting prospects in Pakistan. He continued his meteoric rise with a destructive National T20 Cup; only Khushdil Shah and Sohaib Maqsood boasted a better strike rate among players with as many runs. He would set the tone with a match-winning 48-ball 90 in the opening game against eventual champions KP, helping Northern to a crushing win. A 50-ball 86 towards the latter stages of the competition guaranteed Northern would finish top of the group; his contributions had many people feeling Northern were favourite to retain the title they won last year.
Khushdil Shah (Southern Punjab)
Runs: 362 Strike rate: 177.45 Average 32.90
The face of Southern Punjab's revival towards the end of the competition, Khushdil Shah was the most devastatingly effective power hitter in the Cup. It was his 34-ball century when Southern Punjab looked dead and buried against Sindh, having lost their first four games, that gave them a sniff at qualification. Three further half-centuries - and a 23-ball 47 that eked out a vital 3-run win against Central Punjab, meant he was his side's middle order trump card, and was immediately rewarded with a call-up to the national side for Zimbabwe's upcoming tour.
Hussain Talat (Southern Punjab)
Runs: 319 Strike rate: 151.90 Average 35.44 Wickets: 6
Talat might consider himself unlucky not to have his exploits acknowledged with a nod from Misbah-ul-Haq. Considered a prodigiously talented batsman at Islamabad United, he was called up in 2018, but, having struggled to make a splash, was let go. Here, he made his all-round credentials particularly forcefully, smashing three half-centuries - including a 33-ball 63 in the final that almost took Southern Punjab to the title - and finishing eighth in the run charts. It's his strike rate, though, that especially catches the eye. Never really considered a power hitter, his career T20 strike rate has long hovered around 125, but if he can maintain it around that 150 mark, he'll soon becoming much harder to ignore. He also took 6 wickets, though his economy rate almost touched 11, and will need working on.
Sohaib Maqsood (Southern Punjab)
Runs: 393 Strike rate: 167.94 Average 32.75
Maqsood's 393 was the third-highest run aggregate in the tournament, and Fakhar aside, no one sent the ball to the rope more often than the 63 times Maqsood managed. His four half-centuries helped turn around what was a disastrous campaign to one that ran until the final day. Arguably responsible for the most memorable innings of the tournament, he was sent in to open in the final group game, where his side needed to chase 162 in 12.3 overs to qualify. In a carnival of combative ball-striking, he would bash 81 off 29 to beat an unlikely path through to the semi-finals.
Shadab Khan (Northern)
Runs: 237 Strike rate: 160.13 Average 39.50 Wickets: 15 Avg 20.86 Strike rate 15.2
Over the past year, Shadab Khan has metamorphosised into the ultimate two-in-once cricketer, and that was on full display at this tournament. The ability to score quick runs, be it in the Powerplay or at the death, has given the Northern captain a whole new dimension, and the batting form alone might merit a place in this XI. It helped, of course that he was the fourth highest wicket-taker of the competition - his primary skill - and was rewarded with being handed Pakistan's limited-overs captaincy, as well as the armband for the Northern franchise in all formats.
Sohail Khan (Sindh)
Wickets: 15 Avg 21.20 Strike rate 16.8 Economy 7.57
The only entry from Sindh on this list, Sohail Khan turned in another stellar campaign. He was both economical and lethal, taking, like Shadab, 15 wickets in the tournament, while, in a competition where 200 became the par score, conceding at just 7.57 an over. A regular feature in the wickets column, he was especially impressive against Central Punjab, where he removed both Kamran Akmal and Babar Azam to set his side on their way to a final-over victory.
Shaheen Afridi (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa)
Wickets: 20 Avg 14.90 Strike rate 12 Economy 7.45
The best bowler in the tournament, and just about the best in the world right now, Afridi turned in another spectacular performance that illustrated why he's first choice pick for Pakistan in all three formats. He was often unplayable at both top and tail of an innings, not just because of his wicket-taking prowess, but the sheer mechanical consistency with which he hit his lengths. There were only three five-wicket hauls the entire tournament, and Afridi accounted for two of them. He would go on to play a starring role in the final, taking three wickets to all but set up the win for his side.
Haris Rauf (Northern)
Wickets: 18 Avg 12.33 Strike rate 10 Economy 7.40
Shaheen might have stolen the spotlight, but by a number of metrics, it was Northern's Haris Rauf who could lay claim to being the best bowler in the Cup. He could boast a better average than Shaheen, a superior strike rate and a tighter economy rate, and Northern benefitted hugely from his performances. He seemed to particularly enjoy playing against Southern Punjab, whose batsmen accounted for half of his wickets and both his four-wicket hauls. A splendid 3-28 against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in their final group game helped Northern complete the double over the eventual champions, and now his pace seems to be accompanied by accuracy, his inclusion in the squad for the series against Zimbabwe wasn't remotely surprising.
Muhammad Musa (Northern)
Wickets: 9 Avg 26.44 Strike rate 20 Economy 7.93
Something of a wildcard pick, Muhammad Musa wasn't as obviously eye-catching as some of the other bowlers in the list. But there was a reason Northern boasted the best bowling line-up, and that came down to partnerships. One match where he conceded 52 aside, Musa was stellar whenever called upon, complementing the work Rauf and Shadab were doing, and making inroads of his own from time to time. His 9 wickets are by no means a shabby return, and included three in the opening match against KP, but it was the other game against the eventual champions where he was even more impressing, conceding 29 in four and removing Fakhar as Northern defended 144.