Patrons Trophy, fifth round, 3rd day January 4, 2006

Customs demoted after following on

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Pakistan Customs were not only forced to follow on by Habib Bank, but they will now also be relegated to the non-first-class Grade-II circuit next season. Needing to score 356 to avert the follow on after Habib Bank had put up 506 in their first innings, Customs were all out for 283 at the United Bank Limited (UBL) Sports Complex. They ended the third day on 49 for 1, still 174 runs short of avoiding an innings defeat.

However, no matter what happens on the final day today (Thursday), Customs will have to suffer the ignominy of being demoted to the Grade-II tournament, from where they will have to start the process of seeking promotion all over again. Starting at their overnight score of 74 for 3 and needing another 282 runs to make Habib Bank bat again, Customs were 168 for 6. Fawad Alam, who had earlier helped add 59 for the fourth wicket with Azhar Shafiq (32) continued to take the fight to the opponents.

He and Murtaza Hussain shared a seventh-wicket partnership of 80. Fawad was unlucky to fall six runs short of a well-deserved hundred, which would have been only the second of his short first-class career. He batted for just over four hours facing 184 balls and hit nine boundaries. Murtaza's unbeaten 43 included three fours and a six and came off 124 balls in about three hours.

Two quick wickets at the end by new-ball bowler Shahid Nazir, who finished with 3 for 33 from 16 overs, and Shahid Afridi's legbreaks hitting twice at the middle order, broke the Customs' resolve. They lost an early wicket in the second innings before the batsmen took control.

The two top teams from either group are looking for qualification to the tournament's Quadrangular Stage round that gets underway from January 15. Habib Bank, the record seven-time winners of the Patrons Trophy, are currently placed second behind Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

They need a win in this match to stay as one of the two top teams in their group. Customs have collected only six points from their three previous matches and find themselves placed at the bottom of the points table.

Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Limited's (SNGPL) splendid effort for a first-innings lead fell a mere eight runs short on the third day at the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) Sports Complex on Wednesday.

Chasing Pakistan International Airline's first innings score of 384, SNGPL finally fell for 376. PIA faced an uneasy situation in their second innings, and lost two wickets with only 15 runs on the board.

SNGPL received an early setback as they lost their first wicket without any addition to the score after a brilliant start of 149 runs by their openers. Ayub Dogar perished for 66 off 108 balls with seven fours and a six. His partner, Mohammad Hafeez, took his score to 88 off 180 deliveries with nine boundaries, but four wickets fell with only 34 runs added. It needed a 144-run fifth-wicket partnership to give SNGPL the hope of taking a lead.

Misbah-ul-Haq, the captain, hit seven boundaries in his knock of 81 in just short of three-and-a-half hours off 162 balls. Saleem Mughal scored 72 off 117 balls with seven fours.

Unfortunately, the last five wickets added a mere 49 further runs and SNGPL fell behind. Kamran Sajid, filling in for Umar Gul who was unable to bowl because of fever, captured 3 for 57. Fazl-e-Akbar took 3 for 65. Samiullah Niazi, the left-arm opening bowler, took two quick PIA wickets when they batted the second time. They are now only 23 runs ahead with the final day remaining.

SNGPL, with nine points from their three previous matches, also need a win to take their tally to 18, something which could even have taken them into the Quadrangular Stage ahead of PIA. With only one more day to go in the match, this may not happen.

PIA, who have never won the Patron's Trophy but shared the title last season with Habib Bank after the final was rained off, currently have a total of 15 points. They require an outright win to stay in contention for the next round.

Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) had Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) reeling at 108 for 8 as their match finally got underway on the third day at the Sheikhupura Stadium.

With the first two days washed out, first because of heavy rains and then due to the unplayable conditions at the ground, WAPDA immediately put PTCL in after Adil Nisar won the toss.

Sarfraz Ahmed and Faisal Irfan, the new-ball bowlers, struck early as two wickets fell with only five runs on the board. After a third-wicket stand of 51 runs, Farooq Iqbal played havoc with the ball and took 5 for 37 in 17.3 overs.

Babar Naeem, the Rawalpindi left-hander, top-scored with 33 off 81 balls with four fours and a six. Zulqarnain Haider, the wicketkeeper, contributed a patient 26 off 102 deliveries in a little over two hours with a four and a six. Six of the nine batsmen who came to the crease failed to reach double-figures. Tahir Mughal scored 18 at No.8.

WAPDA, who were the Patron's Trophy runners-up in 2003-04, are at second spot in the five-team table with 12 points from three appearances. PTCL, who have a total of 18 points, have never won a national title. They need a win, or at least a draw with three points, to retain their position, though they can advance to the next round even if they drop to second place.

If the poor playing conditions persist and no points are gained by either team in the other Group B match being played in Peshawar -- between National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) and Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) -- then PTCL and WAPDA will qualify for the Quadrangular Stage round.

There was no play for a third consecutive day in the match between National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) and Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) at the Arbab Niaz Stadium.

The match, originally scheduled to be played at the Lahore City Cricket Asociation (LCCA) Ground in Lahore, was shifted because of the poor conditions there mainly due to heavy fog and poor visibility. In Peshawar, first heavy rain and then unplayable conditions have prevented any play so far.

The sun was out on Tuesday, but the ground didn't dry up as expected. The two teams wanted to play yesterday but the umpires felt that the pitch and the surroundings were not conducive for the match to begin. With only the final day left today (Thursday), it is doubtful whether even the first innings issue would be resolved here.

NBP, five-time winners of the tournament, are at third place in Group B with only nine points. They needed an outright win over ZTBL to stay in contention for the Quadrangular Stage round, for which the top two teams from either group will qualify.

If there's no play even on the last day and no points are gained from the fifth and final round matches, then Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) and Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) will qualify for the Quadrangular Stage round.

Service Industries, after having gained no points from their four matches of which they lost three and drew one, have already suffered demotion to the non-first-class Patrons Trophy Grade-II circuit. Ironically, they had qualified for the ongoing tournament after having won the last season's Grade-II championship.