Hafeez and Misbah put SNGPL on top
SNGPL 203 for 4 (Hafeez 69, Misbah 42*, Kamran 3-63) v HBL
A captain's knock by Mohammad Hafeez and a fine counter-attacking innings by Misbah-ul-Haq ensured Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) finished a reduced first day on 203 for 4, against Habib Bank (HBL) in the final of the 50th Quaid-e-Azam trophy in Karachi. It was an effective recovery, having been 35 for 2 within the first hour.
As many as 25 overs were lost post-lunch to bad light, as unusually overcast conditions hung over the National Stadium. No doubt, those very conditions had prompted Shahid Afridi, HBL's captain, to field on winning the toss.
Kamran Hussain, the left-arm fast-bowler, utilised them perfectly as he, together with Sajid Shah, forced SNGPL's openers on the back foot right from the start. Generating early swing, Hussain was the more dangerous as SNGPL openers played and missed regularly. Sensing their unease Afridi put in four slips and a gully, with immediate success as Hussain induced an edge from Yasir Arafat. The ball, however, evaded a diving Younis Khan. In Hussain's next over though, a repeat was duly snatched up as Arafat departed for an edgy 12. And early momentum was with HBL as Umar Akmal - SNGPL's highest-scorer in the tournament - perished playing loosely to an outswinger.
Hafeez, however, had other ideas. Having scored centuries in his last three matches, Hafeez once again reminded onlooking selectors of his form, and talent. Full deliveries were driven through the covers while short balls, of which there were plenty, were pulled ruthlessly over square leg.
With the sun breaking through, the opening bowlers were taken off and with that, the pressure duly eased off too. Danish Kaneria, bowling with a re-modelled action, was largely ineffective, bowling too short or too full, as Hafeez and Azhar Shafiq staged a mini-recovery.
With Shafiq, Hafeez put on 84 runs before Younis snatched a stunning catch inches off the ground to send back the former. And Younis was not done for the day. After Hafeez had pulled Fahad Masood for six and driven him for four, an edge off his bat went past Younis at second slip - almost. He stuck out his right hand, taking an astonishing leaping catch as Hafeez looked in disbelief.
From that point onwards, it was all Misbah and the light. Showing the same class that has made him Pakistan's backbone in the last few months, Misbah feasted on some short, wide bowling, crunching eight fours in an unbeaten 42. A packed off-side field was regularly pierced by back-foot cuts and cover drives on one knee.
With the 33-year-old in full flow and the pitch not providing as much assistance to the bowlers, SNGPL might well stack up a large first-innings total. It could be a decisive one, especially with rain forecast for the next few days, which could result in the match being decided on a first-innings lead.
Faras Ghani is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo