Shoaib Malik continued his solid form with both bat and ball, as he led the Punjab Stallions to their second win in a row over the NWFP Panthers. Far from the fireworks of yesterday's spectacular last-ball thriller, this was a slow-burner: an NWFP side weakened by the absence of captain Umar Gul and Younis Khan pushed hard, their challenge fell away over the last ten overs as Punjab's spinners, with Malik to the fore, applied a mid-innings choke.
Malik had first played his part with the bat. Having been put in by NWFP, Punjab were off to the worst possible start, losing Azhar Ali early. Salman Butt and Nasir Jamshed may have been one of the few bright spots for Pakistan this year, but they were soon gone to, on a sluggish pitch. That left Punjab 36 for 3 and Malik with a headache.
But in his typically unruffled way, Malik went about looking to put some respectability to the total. Good running helped as a number of singles and doubles were picked up and some support emerged in the shape of Umar Akmal, the tyro younger brother of Kamran.
The pair steadied matters with an 86-run partnership but the dismissal of both in quick succession, and Kamran Akmal to boot, left Punjab pretty much where they had started - in some strife. Thereafter, Mansoor Amjad, Abdur Rehman and the tail scraped and scratched their way to ensuring a defendable total. Samiullah Khan Niazi and Shakeel-ur-Rehman, with three wickets apiece, made sure it wouldn't be easy.
The start to the NWFP innings was similar, as Adnan Raees was caught behind off the wiry, impressive and pacy Mohammad Talha. Yasir Hameed took a cue from Malik. Leading NWFP in Gul's absence, the former Pakistan opener got down to some serious graft.
Though not timing the ball fluently, or finding gaps readily - a blip that has lately emerged - Hameed hung around. Rafatullah Mohmand chanced his arm at the other end and kept up the rate and at times in their partnership, the total appeared a doddle.
But Malik, helped by Rehman, then made his second vital impact on this match. Junaid Zia had already sent back Mohmand when Malik trapped the impressive Khurram Shehzad and almost immediately after, beat Hameed with a beautifully looped delivery. Thereafter the chase was up, the spirit gone.
Rehman bowled a wonderfully restrictive spell of left-arm spin, supporting Malik. Amjad came on late in the show, getting appreciable turn and bounce, and further stifling the rate. During this choke, NWFP crashed from 142 for 3 to 183 for 9, including three panic-struck run-outs. They went down fighting at least, with Mohammad Aslam unbeaten on 24. Talha came back for another quick, yorker-ridden spell at the end, to finish with two wickets and Pakistan's selection committee would've taken note. Malik, it was however, who deservedly received the Man-of-the-Match award.