Breathtaking catches by Younis Khan ensured Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) were restricted to 171 for 4 as tea was taken 15 minutes early due to bad light on the first day against Habib Bank Limited (HBL).
Azhar Shafiq was caught inches off the ground and Mohammad Hafeez, SNGPL's top scorer with an authorative 69, edged one that was plucked out of thin air as SNGPL stumbled in the post-lunch session.
Azhar's dismissal brought an end to an 84-run third wicket partnership that rescued SNGPL from a precarious 35 for 2. Hafeez, however, kept the score moving at a lively pace as he continued his front-foot driving and pulls off the short balls. Reaching his fifty with a pull to square-leg, Hafeez dispatched a Fahad Masood short ball into the stand as the bowler erred in length continuously. In ominous form, Hafeez looked all set for his fourth century of the tournament as he drove Masood and cut Danish Kaneria ferociously on the off side. However, Younis' athleticism brought an end to a captain's innings and breathed life into the match.
However, Misbah-ul-Haq played a counterattacking innings after being regularly gifted short and wide deliveries, all duly dispatched off the middle of his bat. Misbah showed glimpses of his recent form in his brief innings, remaining not out on 21, as the overcast conditions that had aided HBL bowlers earlier in the day threatened an early close of play.
Lunch SNGPL 98 for 2 (Hafeez 37*, Azhar 19*, Kamran 2-30) v HBL
An unbroken 63-run third-wicket partnership between Mohammad Hafeez and Azhar Shafiq rescued Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) from a jittery start as they went into lunch at 98 for 2 against Habib Bank Limited (HBL) in the final of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy at National Stadium in Karachi.
Opting to bat first under overcast conditions, Hafeez and Yasir Arafat had a nervous start with both HBL bowlers getting plenty of assistance in the air. Kamran Hussain, the left-arm fast bowler, caused more problems, especially with the ball leaving the right-hand batsman Hafeez. Pitching full, he forced several play-and-misses but pitching short, he was duly dispatched square off the wicket, a majestic pulled six by Hafeez being the highlight.
Sensing the movement off the seam, as well as the hesitancy to play forward, Shahid Afridi, HBL's captain, provided four slips and a gully to Kamran who immediately induced an edge off Arafat's bat. The ball, however, evaded a diving Younis Khan and four lucky runs were added to the total. In Kamran's next over, though, a repeat was duly snatched up as Arafat departed for an edgy 12 off 23 deliveries.
Umar Akmal, SNGPL's highest scorer this season, failed to contribute much to the total and was caught behind driving loosely off Kamran for only 2. However, as the sun broke through the clouds, and the opening bowlers were taken off, pressure was released. Hafeez and Azhar mixed patience with aggression and drove freely all around the ground to put their team in a decent position at lunch.
A largely ineffective Danish Kaneria, bowling with a re-modelled action, was guilty of pitching too short and was cut away frequently by both batsmen. When overpitching, he was driven over his head as he availed zero assistance from the first morning pitch.