For cricket buffs, the Pakistan-India Asia Cup 2014 contest on Sunday (March 2) was the most thrilling one. But it was not. The real thriller and nail biting tie of the tournament was played on Tuesday (March 4) at Sher-e-Bangla Stadium between Pakistan and hosts Bangladesh. The match was expected to be a one-sided affair, but it went to the wire and turned out to be beyond one’s imagination and thoughts. No doubt, it was a high-octane stuff. Pakistan pulled off a thrilling three-wicket victory over hosts Bangladesh to storm into the final of the tournament, completely knocking India out of the title race. This loss will hurt Bangladesh as much as the one against Afghanistan did and they have only pride to play for in the final league game against Sri Lanka. With this victory, Pakistan grabbed four points to aggregate 13 with the help of three victories in four matches. Skipper Misbahul Haq and his charges will now face Sri Lanka in the final on Saturday. The qualification for the final news gives this beleaguered nation something to cheer about amid violence and terrorism that have rocked the country.
The match surely belonged to Pakistan star all-rounder Shahid Afridi who helped Pakistan tame Tigers. Opener Ahmad Shahzad blasted a 123-ball 103 to set the foundation for a record chase but it was Afridi’s blistering 59 off 25 balls which led Pakistan set up a summit clash against the men from Pearl Island. Afridi bludgeoned the Bangladesh bowlers to script Pakistan’s highest ever run chase . Chasing 327 for victory, Shahzad gave Pakistan a solid start with his fifth ODI century but it was left to Afridi’s pyrotechnics to cement the win as the right-hander hit seven sixes and two fours during his innings, his half-century coming off just 18 balls. Between overs 41.2 overs and 46.5, when he was finally run out, Afridi launched sixes over long on, extra cover, long off, midwicket and fine leg. Fawad Alam (74) was also run out in the final over but his two sixes off left-arm spinner Abdur Razzak had sealed the win for Pakistan, whose highest successful run chase till date was in a 2007 ODI against India when they made 322-6 in Mohali.
Impeccable batting by the hosts: Unlike their bowling that fell apart, however, Bangladesh’s batting was impeccable. Determined to register their first win in the tournament, Bangladesh made five changes to their squad and their top order fired in unison to help them post 326 for three, their highest ODI total in front of a delirious crowd at Mirpur. Bangladesh’s previous highest score was 320-8 against Zimbabwe in a 2009 one-dayer in Bulawayo. Opener Anamul Haq (100) hit his second ODI century, while Imrul Kayes (59) and Mominul Haque (51) chipped in with brisk half-centuries to lay the foundation for a big total against Pakistan’s off-colour attack and some sloppy fielding. Skipper Mushfiqur Rahim (51) and all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan (44) added 77 quick runs in 5.4 overs and remained undefeated to take the hosts past the 300-run mark.
When Pakistan look back on the match, they will probably also identify their lack of discipline in the bowling department, considered their strong weapon, as the primary reason for Bangladesh amassing a mammoth total. The Pakistan bowlers were guilty of below average performance and conceded 21 extras – shocking 15 wides and 3 no balls. This was really criminal. The Bangladesh, on the other hand, bowled just seven wides and there were no no balls. Afridi went for 64 runs in his 10 overs while paceman Mohammad Talha conceded 68 in seven and Umar Gul 76 in his 10. Left-arm spinner Abdur Rehman, brought in as one of two changes in Pakistan’s squad, suffered the worst fate as he was suspended from the attack over dangerous bowling. Rehman sent down a hat-trick of illegal full tosses and was taken out of the attack with bizarre bowling figures of 0-0-8-0.
Despite facing a formidable task, the tourists kept their nerve till the last ball for a record-breaking triumph. They raced home after a batting feast that first saw Shahzad and Alam and later Afridi and Alam (a 69-run stand for the sixth wicket in only 5.3 overs) turned it all around with an outstanding partnership. Not only did they press on the accelerator, they did so with minimum risk. And in the end, Pakistan were all over the Tigers who had surpassed expectations to post their best ODI score. *
LAHORE: Skipper Azhar Ali and his charges will be aiming for their first series win in 17 months ...