LOVE him or loathe him, there is no denying the fact that Saleem Malik is a cricketer of the highest calibre. The burly Pakistan Association all-rounder, whose controversial Mankading act earlier this season put him in the eye of a storm, was once again in the thick of the action as the Pakistanis all but clinched the CMI Sunday League title yesterday by defeating closest contenders Templars. Typifying his fighting persona, Saleem singlehandedly lifted the Pakistanis from a dire situation. After being put into bat by the Templars, they were reeling at 88 for seven with 18 overs left. Templars' left-arm medium pacer Erle Pereira had grabbed three wickets as had fellow-paceman Adam Clifton, and the Templars were right on top. Saleem, who had come in at number six, seemed to have found a reliable partner in skipper Sada Hussain but a top catch by Templars' stand-in skipper Tony Correa, diving to his left at extra cover, saw the end of Sada. Even the most optimistic Pakistani supporter - and there were over 200 of them by stumps - would have been forgiven for giving up hope. But Saleem, showing the spirit of a streetfighter, rose to the occasion with his innings, which was one of the best knocks seen this season simply because it was built on hardship. Like the best steel, forged in the hottest fire, Saleem showed he could rise to the pressure-cooker atmosphere which the Templars had created early through superb fielding. Even an exchange of words with Templars bowler Rahul Sharma (who berated Saleem for giving advice to the striker), did not take his mind off the task at hand - which was to give his side a total to defend. And with Jawaid Iqbal, recently returned from Japan, Saleem shared an entertaining and enterprising partnership of 81 runs, and then another 52 runs with Mohammed Saghir. The last 10 overs produced 108 runs. He gave one chance in his 60s when Quentin O'Reilly grassed a catch in the deep, but apart from that blemish his 86-ball knock, including five sixes and 10 fours, was superb. Templars began the chase sedately with openers Dean Kelly and Pat Fordham putting on 36 before Kelly was out trying to turn a straightish delivery down the leg from Wasim Imtiaz. Two superb pieces of fielding by Sada resulted in run outs and the loss of Fordham's valuable wicket. But a determined Sharma, stubbornly refused to give up as he compiled a characteristic 93. It is not often that Sharma scores 93 and his side loses. But yesterday the Pakistanis subjected him to that fate. Cheered on by their vociferous supporters, Zubair wrapped up the match clean bowling Richard Raphael and Brendon Harding to stay on a hat-trick next time he plays - when most probably the celebrations will still be continuing in the Pakistani camp.