New team that includes Pathans drawn from one of Pakistan’s four administrative provinces win tournament on debut, and they say they are here to stay
Ramadan Twenty20 Cup: Victorious Pakhtunkhwa Zalmi target domination of UAE cricket
Pakhtunkhwa Zalmi arrived on the UAE's domestic cricket scene with a bang when they were crowned Ramadan Twenty20 Cup champions on Friday night.
What's more, the new kids on the block intend to take over the neighbourhood.
Pakhtunkhwa were unbeaten throughout the tournament, organised at night by Abu Dhabi Cricket to mark the holy month, and they carried their good form into the final, crushing Environment Agency by eight wickets to lift the trophy.
Sent in to bat first at Zayed Cricket Stadium, Environment Agency posted an imposing 193-3 in their allotted 20 overs. But Pakhtunkhwa went about their chase in clinical fashion, knocking off the winning runs with nine balls to spare. Their win was in large part thanks to a brilliant 95 not out from just 48 balls by opener Tariq Afridi.
Even though the required run-rate was nearly 10 an over, it did not appear like Pakhtunkhwa were under any sort of pressure. Sajid Khalil provided the perfect start, smashing seven fours and three sixes en route to 55 off 26 balls. By the time he was out in the seventh over, his team's total was already 80.
Even though Pakhtunkhwa lost their No 3 batsman Mohammed Muzammil (3) six runs later, Afridi and Mohammed Rizwan (36 not out) guided their team home without further hiccups.
Afridi smashed seven sixes and six fours.
Captain Adnan Shahab summed up the mood in their camp when he said “we want to challenge for all titles next season”. Indeed Shahab's side, which includes Pathans drawn from one of Pakistan’s four administrative provinces, played like champions.
“We have lots of talented players from this province employed in the Emirates, and they have been playing for various teams,” Shahab said. “It’s the first time we have got together as a team and we certainly want to stay as a team from now on.
"We received support from a few friends to establish this club," said the leg-spinner, who topped the tournament's bowling chart with 12 wickets from six games. “We are overwhelmed from our first outing. We couldn’t have expected a better start.
"This result will encourage the players, our fans and sponsors.”
At a time when several major teams have turned defunct due to financial constraints and other reasons, it was heartening to see the emergence of a new club boasting of more than a few hundred fans already.
“We have a big following because people from this area are very passionate of their cricket,” Shahab, a civil engineer employed in the UAE for more than a decade, pointed out.
“Obviously it’s good for local cricket and we believe this team will draw more players, meaning the levels within the team will improve with more competition to get into the playing XI.”
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Afridi himself played at a good level. He represented Pakistan at the Under 16 and U19 levels before moving to the UAE six years ago to find employment as a banker.
Had he pursued cricket, he may have been a strong contender for UAE national team. But instead, he enjoys playing with friends.
“I have a day job and a young family to look after. No time for serious cricket,” the left-handed opener said on whether he had national ambitions at all.