Pentangular Cup, fourth round, 4th day April 21, 2006

National Bank raise title hopes with improbable win

Imran Javed, the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) allrounder, celebrated his 31st birthday in style as he compiled an unbeaten century to take his side to victory against Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) on the final day of their fourth-round Pentangular Cup Cricket Championship match at the Multan Cricket Stadium.

The win over PIA gave NBP only six points instead of the full nine, as they had surrendered the first-innings lead earlier, but it took their points tally after three matches to 24. PIA have now been eliminated from the race to the Pentangular Cup title.

Yasir Hameed, the PIA captain, had declared his team's second innings at 339 for 8, setting NBP a stiff target of 375 for victory. At stumps on the third day, PNB were 58 for 2 but yesterday their batsmen brought them an improbable win as they inched home by two wickets. The overnight pair of Nasir Jamshed and Faisal Athar then took the score to 91 for 2. After Nasir departed for 46, Faisal found an able partner in Shahid Yousuf and the fourth-wicket pair added 79. Faisal's 61 came off 93 balls and included 12 hits to the ropes. Shahid made 32 off 64 deliveries with the help of five boundaries. But six NBP wickets went down with just 187 on the board and the objective still 188 away.

Imran then changed the entire complexion of the match. With fellow all-rounder Yasir Arafat, he helped post 117 for the seventh-wicket partnership, bringing his team to within 71 of the target. Yasir missed his half-century by a solitary run, scoring 49 off 75 balls with five fours and a six. But Imran, who scored his third century after more than four years, remained unbeaten at 102, having batted for 10 minutes short of four hours and making his runs off 170 balls with 11 fours and two sixes. Playing in the 31st first-class match, Imran had earlier completed 50 wickets with the ball. Mohammad Sami, the rejected Pakistan fast bowler, chipped in with a useful 20 off 48 balls with two fours and added 61 for the eighth wicket with Imran.

With only the fifth and final round matches remaining, starting from Sunday, NBP have a great opportunity to win the competition. While table leaders Faisalabad have ended their programme of four matches with a total of 27 points, NBP must not be defeated by Karachi Harbour in their last match. to be played at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. In case their match ends as a draw, NBP will take their points tally to 27, the same as Faisalabad if they take the first-innings lead. Even if they emerge triumphant after losing the first-innings advantage, six more points will give them the championship title.

PIA, three-time winners of the Pentangular Cup in the past, will now play a rather inconsequential fifth-round match against Sialkot, here at the same venue from Sunday. Victory for neither side will make a difference to the final outcome on April 26, when the tournament comes to an end.