Malik and Butt star for unbeaten Punjab

Punjab Stallions 287 for 4 (Butt 109, Malik 108*) beat Baluchistan Bears 284 for 4 (Saeed Bin Nasir 97*, Misbah 49) by six wickets

Punjab Stallions, led by twin centuries from Shoaib Malik and Salman Butt, marched to their third successive win in the Pentagular One Day Cup with another commanding six-wicket over the Baluchistan Bears at the National Stadium in Karachi. Solid contributions from Saeed Bin Nasir and captain Misbah-ul-Haq had led Baluchistan to what seemed a competitive 284. Malik and Butt made the total seem far less daunting.

It shouldn't have been for Punjab began their reply on a poor note, losing openers Azhar Ali and Nasir Jamshed with the total just 24, and then Umar Akmal at 70. But like the Federal Areas pair of Umar Amin and Afaq Raheem yesterday, Butt and Malik began to swiftly repair the damage.

Malik's contributions to the national side may often inspire less confidence, but he is in the midst of the purplest of patches currently. In Punjab's previous two games he has been outstanding allround and he was here again. Though the boundary count wasn't high - only ten -some driven down the ground and slapped through cover were pretty in that typically efficient way. Gaps were easily picked in the wide spaces of the National Stadium and as is the norm with him, he ran hard through out. Thoroughly unhurried, Malik ended 108 not out, at considerably better than a run a ball.

Butt was grace itself, the timing that had so deserted him in Pakistan's recent Abu Dhabi jaunt, back in its rightful place. Repeatedly he pierced areas between point and cover. The recent improvements in his leg-side game were also evident in some fine flicks and pulls through midwicket. The pair had put on 130 when Butt went hoicked Danish Kaneria to midwicket, the leg-spinner a little better today than he has been thus far.

At that point, a collapse wouldn't have been unthinkable, but the other main man in the Punjab line-up - Kamran Akmal - eased the situation with a boisterous 48 from only 29 balls. Three massive sixes, pulled over midwicket and lofted over long on, proved further that his batting at least is back to somewhere near his best.

Malik had impressed with the ball earlier as well; an economical 2 for 37 means he now lies third in the wicket-takers' table and is leading the run charts. Still, Bin Nasir has been in good touch and a fine unbeaten 97 held Baluchistan together. Either side of him solid efforts from the top and middle orders boosted the total.

The openers Mohammad Hafeez (48) and Shoaib Khan jnr (36) added 75, and a 94-run partnership for the third wicket followed between Saeed Anwar jnr (25) and Bin Nasir. Misbah, hair shorn and beard visible, almost capped it with a typical finish, his 49 coming from 47 balls, but with just one boundary. He was out just when Baluchistan were looking to push, however and despite a valiant charge from Bin Nasir, who just failed to reach his century, Baluchistan's total just wasn't enough.