Pakistan pocket Asia Cup after thrilling climax

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Mirpur: The only thing that Bangladesh didn’t win after a dramatic Asia Cup finale at the Shere Bangla Stadium was the trophy itself. Other than that, it was Bangladesh’s tournament by all counts. They won hearts of not just their unflinching fan-following; most neutrals would side with them for their brave effort. Chasing 237 for glory, Bangladesh ran Pakistan close but not close enough for the title. They fell agonizingly short – 234 for 8 – in what was a heart-break for the players and spectators alike.
Defying all pre-tournament talk, Bangladesh made life difficult for all the big sub-continental giants in the tournament, Pakistan included. They bowled their heart out and with the bat; they kept Pakistan on the toes throughout the chase. Shakib al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal once again starred to keep the chase going till the very last ball.
Chasing in a tournament final can be daunting for even the most accomplished batting sides. For batsmen, probably playing in the biggest game of their cricketing careers, the task was even more difficult. However, the silver lining for Bangladesh was their chasing form in the tournament thus far. Batting under lights has emerged as their forte and key to this has been Tamim Iqbal’s prolific batting upfront. Like at the league stage, Tamim provided Bangladesh a solid start.
In a 68-run opening stand, Tamim did the bulk of scoring as Nazimuddin found it diffluent to put bat to ball. Umar Gul went past his bat with alarming regularity and against the spinners, he just couldn’t get going. His struggle lasted 52 deliveries during which he only scored 16 before miscuing an attempted loft to Younis Khan at long-off. Jahurul Islam failure to pick an Ajmal doosra allowed Pakistan to create a foothold in the match.
Meanwhile, Tamim struck the ball sweetly even as the new balls got some movement. He drove and cut with aplomb, striking eight crisply timed boundaries in his 60 off 68 deliveries. With Pakistan tightening the screws after the bowling powerplay, Tamim tried to force a pull against Gul in the 24th over, instead the ball lobbed to extra cover where Younis completed yet another smart catch.
At 81 for three, in walked Shakib al Hasan, the hosts’ best batsman for such tight circumstances. The first ball he faced was creamed through midwicket. With Nasir Hossain for company, he added 89 for the fifth wicket to take Bangladesh to 170. While Nasir was not his usual free-scoring self, using up 63 deliveries for 28, Shakib was in blistering touch at the other end. His 68 run knock was laced with seven boundaries and came at shade under run-a-ball. Despite Shakib’s heroics, Bangladesh fell behind the asking rate, primarily due to Nasir’s inability to turn over the strike. Eventually, Gul had him caught at midwicket.
Bangladesh needed to score at about nine an over in the last seven overs, an achievable task considering Shakib was still batting. Aizaz Cheema delivered the body blow for Bangladesh in the 44th over by cleaning up Shakib. In his next over, Mushfiqur Rahim holed out, further plunging the side into crisis.
From the last four overs, 39 runs were needed. With Gul to bowl, Pakistan definitely had the upper hand but Mashrafe Mortaza crashed three boundaries in four deliveries to restore parity. His dismissal once again put Pakistan in drive’s seat. As opposed to power, Mashrafe went cute against Ajmal, his paddle sweep landed in the lap of short fine leg. Umar Gul and Cheema delivered the last two overs respectively without conceding a boundary to contain Bangladesh millimeters before the finish line.
Earlier, Bangladesh bowled and fielded superbly to restrict Pakistan to a modest total of 236 for nine. On a pitch that was slow and offered lavish turn, the hosts kept Pakistan in check with their battery of spinners that was backed by some agile legs and safe hands. Only due to Sarfraz Ahmad’s 52-ball 46, Pakistan reached respectability, otherwise, they could have ended with lot less. Left-armer spinners Abdur Razzaq and Shakib al Hasan exploited the conditions to good effect to have combined figures of 4 for 65 in 20 overs.
Bangladesh’s excellent track record batting second in the tournament meant Mushfiqur Rahim had no hesitation in inserting Pakistan after winning the toss. Pakistan’s opening pair – fresh from a double century stand in the last game against India – couldn’t get the desired momentum at the start. That forced Nasir Jamshed to go over the top in the fifth over but the result was an easy catch for cover fielder. Younis Khan was adjudged leg-before, even though, replays suggested there was an inside edge. Misbah-ul-Haq was run-out on a Nasir Hossain direct-hit and by the time, Hafeez holed out at mid-on, Pakistan were in trouble at 70 for four.
Not only did the visitors lose early wickets but the scoring worm barely got off the ground. Hammad Azam tried to counter the situation by hitting his way out of the hole. With him was Umar Akmal, who also played aggressively during a 59-run stand for the fifth wicket. Just when it seemed the duo was taking Pakistan to safety, Bangladesh struck back through two errors – one by Azam and another by umpire Steve Davies. Hammad threw it away with a wild slog. Potentially a match changing moment, Umar Akmal was adjudged caught behind down the leg side even as the ball had only flicked his clothing.
Shahid Afridi went berserk in the batting powerplay but the fireworks didn’t last for long time. His 32 off 22 deliveries briefly threatened to take the game away from Bangladesh but Nasir Hossain’s brilliance in the field accounted for the ‘boom boom’. When Umar Gul was caught off a leading edge, Pakistan were in danger of being dismissed before the 50th over.
Thanks to some late fight back by wicketkeeper batsman Sarfraz, Pakistan were saved from a precarious 199 for eight. The only time Bangladesh were wayward was the last over bowled by Shahadat Hossain, nineteen runs came off it. Other than that, it was a clinical performance in the field.

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