Sialkot begin title defence on high note
Danish Kaneria ran through the Karachi Whites batting line-up in the second innings and picked up six wickets, adding to the match-haul of 11, to hand Habib Bank Limited (HBL) a comprehensive win with a day to spare at the National Bank of Pakistan Sports Complex. Resuming on three for no loss, Karachi were in trouble from the start as Kaneria weaved his magic. Having accounted for two of the top three, he stamped his class further and received good support from left-arm spinner Abdur Rehman, who picked up 3 for 59. It was a toothless display from the Karachi batsman as none managed to reach 30, with the team being bowled out for 172. HBL polished off the 57 needed for victory in the 16th over, for the loss of three wickets.
Pakistan international Khurram Manzoor was in sublime form as Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) kept their chase up for first-innings points against Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) at the National Stadium. The second wicket-partnership between Manzoor and Kamran Sajid which had yielded 31 overnight, flourished further as the two played patiently, working the bowlers confidently. While Sajid managed seven boundaries during his 206-ball 70, Manzoor smashed 20 fours in his unbeaten 156 off 372 balls. Even when Sajid departed, Manzoor found the perfect foil in captain Faisal Iqbal, who stayed with him till stumps scoring a near run-a-ball 51, including ten fours.
The limelight on the third day was shared by the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) bowlers and Fawad Alam, as they had victory in sights against Lahore Shalimar at the Gaddafi Stadium. Beginning on 344 for 3, NBP lost overnight centurion Salman Butt soon, but that did not dampen Fawad's spirits as he piled on 94 with Qaiser Abbas (37) for the fifth wicket. Fawad finished on 126 off 197 balls, including 11 fours, which preceded Kamran Akmal's hurricane 52, as NBP declared on a mammoth 535 for 6. There was more hurt to follow for Lahore as they struggled to 56 for 4, with Abid Ali fighting bravely with 46. However, his departure brought Saad Nasim (29) to the crease, and together with Sheraz Butt (26) they survived till close of play, with Wahab Riaz and the other bowlers waiting to go in for the kill.
Though it was a much-improved batting performance from Pakistan Customs second time around, Sui Southern Gas Corporation (SSGC) would be fancying an outright win at the United Bank Limited Sports Complex. Having lost overnight half-centurion Rameez Raja early, it was Asad Baig and Rawait Khan who took up responsibility to show some fight. Both struck crucial fifties before being knocked over by Dilawar Khan, who finished with 4 for 75. No significant contribution was to follow as Customs were bowled out for 340. The target of 239 should not be too difficult for SSGC, but the dismissal of wicketkeeper Ahmed Zeeshan before stumps, did not augur well.
Right-arm fast bowler Asad Ali kept Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Ltd (SNGPL) in the hunt for a win, picking up 6 for 38 to bowl out Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) for 258 at the Iqbal Stadium. It was an inspiring performance as SNGPL openers Mohammad Hafeez and Naeemuddin began strongly pursuing the target of 327. Both batsmen struck unbeaten fifties to set up an enthralling final day's play. Asad was unflagging in spirit after the previous day's breakthroughs and it was wicketkeeper Ahmed Said's 34 and a cameo 45 from captain Naved-ul-Hasan, towards the end of the WAPDA innings, which lifted them to a challenging total. Kashif Raza also managed a defiant 32 of 30 balls, including two fours and two sixes, which prevented SNGPL's task from getting easier.
Defending champions Sialkot got their campaign off to a winning start, thumping Faisalabad by an innings and four runs at the Jinnah Stadium. Having been bowled out for 360 the previous day - a lead of 224 - the Sialkot bowlers put up a good show to clean up the visitors for 220. It was the spinners Nayyer Abbas and Suleman Ali, who did the most damage, finishing with three wickets apiece, while right-arm fast bowler Bilawal Bhatti rounded off the performance with 2 for 39. Faisalabad opener Zeeshan Asif made amends for his first-innings duck with a fluent 63, but was run out after hitting eight fours during his 113-ball stay. They also had to cope with Naved Latif retiring hurt, and even though wicketkeeper Mohammad Salman (48) and Ahmed Hayat (35) tried their best to resurrect Faisalabad, it was too late.
Multan took full points from their clash against Lahore Ravi at the City Cricket Association Ground. It was a comprehensive innings-and-31-run victory after Multan stormed to a 180-run lead and then bowled out the opposition in their second innings for 149. The win was largely fashioned by Zulfiqar Babar, who ran through the Lahore batting order with 6 for 46, after Abdur Rauf (69) and Rizwan Haider (33) provided a late burst to lift Multan to 386. Junaid Zia managed two late blows and ended as Lahore's most successful bowler with 5 for 90. But it was Babar with his left-arm spin, who had the Lahore batsmen struggling. He teamed up well with right-arm quick Rauf, who picked up 3 for 69, to send Lahore surrendering tamely in 52.3 overs, with none of the batsmen crossing 28.
It was heartbreak for Quetta after they failed to pick up first-innings points against Abbottabad, who increased their lead to 192 at the Abbottabad Cricket Stadium. Resuming on 223 for 7, Armaghan Elahi ensured the Quetta tail did not wag, making short work of the final three batsmen to end with 4 for 43. Abbottabad were off on the wrong foot in their second essay, with Nazar Hussain sending back Ghulam Mohammad early. He then ended a flourishing 49-run stand between Hammad Ali (36) and Fawad Ahmed (48) for the second wicket, accounting for both batsmen. In another moment of madness, Riaz Kail was found guilty of obstructing the field, as Abbottabad lost five wickets with the score on 171. Wicketkeeper Mir Azam and Khalid Usman held fort till stumps and it will be interesting to see Abbottabad's approach on the last day.
A defining 105-partnership between Shahid Qambrani and Mir Ali helped Hyderabad clinch first-innings points against Islamabad at the Diamond Club Ground. Qambrani, who had brought up his century the previous day, kept up the pace after Hyderabad resumed on 390 for 7, still 48 adrift of Islamabad's first-innings total, and with three wickets in hand. He was well supported by Mir Ali, who managed 59 off 72 balls, including seven fours and two sixes. Qambrani stayed unbeaten on 150 off 218 balls, comprising 18 fours and two sixes, as Shehzad Azam picked up two late wickets to finish with a five-for. Left-hander Umair Khan then stole the show during Islamabad's second innings, smashing 12 boundaries during his 181-ball 103. He was ably assisted by Ashad Zaidi, who hit eight fours during a well-compiled 85 and the two saw Islamabad safely through to stumps at 242 for 3.
Powered by Khalid Latif's 254, Karachi Blues held the upper hand against Peshawar at Khan Research Laboratory Ground. It was a standout effort from Latif who continued strongly from his overnight 159. It was an impressive tally of 34 boundaries and four sixes that he managed during his assertive 394-ball stay as Karachi finished on an imposing 458. There was a significant contribution from Tariq Haroon as well, stroking a fine 53 and putting on 95 together with Latif for the seventh wicket. In reply, Peshwar were flummoxed by the spin of Atif Maqbool and Azam Hussain, who picked up three and two wickets respectively to leave them stuttering on 82 for 5 at stumps on the second day.