An intriguing battle looms when PIA clash with Habib Bank Limited (HBL) in the final of the National One-day Cricket Championship at Gaddafi Stadium here Thursday.
The day-night fixture pits together no less than eight of the nine members of Sharjah-bound Pakistan squad.
The odd man out is PIA's Yousuf Youhana. The Test right-hander is nursing a groin injury. There are also doubts on the participation of opener Ghulam Ali. Ghulam injured his hand while attempting to catch Imran Khan Tuesday. Initial reports said Ghulam had a hairline fracture.
PIA and HBL scored contrasting victories in their respective semifinals against National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) and Wapda Tuesday night to set up a repeat of their Group-I final round tie. Last Thursday, HBL were comfortable winners over a depleted PIA side, who were without seven key players.
HBL, who trounced Wapda by 139 runs in the Karachi semifinal, have been national one-day champions on eight previous occasions.
Shahid Afridi, the explosive one-day specialist, and the in-form Taufiq Umer make a formidable opening pair who tore apart Wapda's feeble attack Tuesday in spectacular fashion by scoring 90 and 86 respectively. Their stand was worth 153 off 129 deliveries. But they will expect a stern test against PIA's equally formidable pace trio of Wasim Akram, Azhar Mahmood and Abdul Razzaq, backed up by spinners Saqlain Mushtaq, Shoaib Malik and Asif Mujtaba.
It was the PIA's bowlers who tilted the semifinal against NBP in their favour. The seven-time champions won by nine runs after taking the last seven wickets for 44 runs.
The match, which begins at 2:30pm, brings down curtains on a hectic domestic season which began as long ago as Sept last year.
The winners will be richer by a cash award of Rs 100,000 while the runners-up get Rs 50,000.
PIA: Moin Khan (captain), Ghulam Ali, Faisal Iqbal, Yasir Hameed, Asif Mujtaba, Abdul Razzaq, Azhar Mahmood, Shoaib Malik, Wasim Akram, Saqlain Mushtaq, Fazle Akbar, Sohail Jaffar, Mahmood Hamid, Nadeem Khan.
HBL: Ijaz Ahmed (captain), Taufiq Umer, Shahid Afridi, Saleem Elahi, Imran Farhat, Younis Khan, Atiq-uz-Zaman, Abdul Rehman, Sajid Shah, Kabir Khan, Danish Kaneria, Hasan Raza, Farhan Adil, Shahid Nazir, Irfan Fazil.
Umpires: Salim Badar and Mian Aslam.
Match referee: Sultan Rana.