CRICKET / The Bangladesh batsmen leave it too late after a spirited display by the bowlers
Standing on the cusp of history, Bangladesh froze. It was the perfect cue for Pakistan to charge back as a million dreams died from Dhaka to Chittagong while Misbah-ul-Haq's men clinched the Asia Cup at the Sher-E-Bangla National Stadium here on Thursday.
The final boiled down to nine off six deliveries and in a remarkable over, Aizaz Cheema held his nerve while the host's tail lashed without conviction and Pakistan's 236 for nine assumed gigantic proportions unlike its pale shadow, which was the reality at the dinner break. The host scored 234 for eight and fell short by two runs.
The pursuit was never easy, especially after Pakistan extracted the maximum in its bowling Power Play, grabbing two wickets at a measly cost of eight. However, Bangladesh with shades of pugnacity, that mirrored its campaign right through, stayed in the hunt till the last delivery before losing itself in stunned silence and the unabashed tears that trickled down its players' cheeks.
The chase was truly on when Tamim Iqbal's (60) mastery on the off-side, distracted Umar Gul, who bled four fours in two overs. At the other end, Mohammad Nazimuddin was all angst and agony until he freed his arms and found a diving Younis Khan.
At 68 for one, Pakistan made its first incision and Saeed Ajmal's doosra delivered another scalp when Jahurul Islam poked without any clue.
It proved to be a night when Younis was all over the place as Tamim found out after five overs. Cramped by Gul's around-the-wicket line, the tournament's most consistent batsman with four fifties, still went through with his shot and stood shell-shocked.
The crowd found its voice immediately as Shakib Al Hasan (68) struck a four off his very first delivery. The all-rounder and a dour Nasir Hossain, shared an 89-run fourth-wicket partnership that tided past a tricky batting Power Play (21/0) when Ajmal and Mohamad Hafeez reigned.
The required equation turned critical at 84 off 60 but Shakib hastened the run rate with a four off Gul and a six against Cheema. Sadly for the local fans, the expected cruise got turbulent when Shakib moved too far across to scoop one over fine-leg and once captain Mushfiqur Rahim fell, the host needed 47 off 29. It was a statistic that proved impossible to scale despite the late heroics of Mashrafe Mortaza and Mohammad Mahmudullah.
Earlier, Mushfiqur elected to field in the afternoon. It led to a passage of play that found its high in the buzz around the Bangladesh fielders, and its low in Pakistan's inexplicably tentative batting. The first over that yielded 10 and the innings' last, which gifted 19, were the lone high points in a tenure marred by timidity at the crease.
Nasir Jamshed clipped two fours off Mortaza and then tried to drill one through a packed off-side. Sadly for Pakistan, the opener's trudge back to the pavilion found regular followers during the rest of the evening though Younis, and much later Umar Akmal, may consider themselves a tad unlucky.
Bangladesh choked the run flow and once Abdur Razzak weaved in a first spell of 7-3-11-1, Pakistan failed to break the shackles.
Unerring accuracy and sombre batting provided the overwhelming theme especially when Hafeez gaped against Razzak. The opener faced 28 deliveries from the left-arm spinner and eked out six runs from four balls.
Eventually Hafeez lost his patience. Among the rest, Misbah attempted a suicidal run, Hammad Azam and Shahid Afridi came up with cameos and Sarfraz Ahmed (46 n.o.) hung in grimly, but the over-riding image of Pakistan's batting was Gul, leaving the ball during the slog and promptly shadow-practising his evasion.
Gul the bowler though came into play in fits and starts and along with his comrades shut the door on Bangladesh while grief cast a dark shroud on the galleries.
Pakistan: M. Hafeez c Nazmul b Razzak 40 ( 87b, 4x4 ), N. Jamshed c Mahmudullah b Mortaza 9 ( 8b, 2x4 ), Younis lbw b Nazmul 1 (5b) , Misbah (run out) 13 ( 23b, 1x4 ), U. Akmal c Rahim b Mahmudullah 30 ( 45b, 1x6 ), H. Azam c & b Shakib 30 ( 37b, 3x4, 1x6 ), S. Afridi c Nasir b Shakib 32 ( 22b, 4x4, 1x6 ), S. Ahmed (not out) 46 ( 52b, 4x4 ), U. Gul c Shakib b Mortaza 4 ( 6b ), S. Ajmal b Razzak 4 (7b) , A. Cheema (not out) 9 ( 11b, 1x4 ); Extras (b-2, lb-8, w-4, nb-4): 18; Total (for nine wkts. in 50 overs): 236.
Power Plays: One (Overs 1-10): 43/2; Bowling (16-20): 11/0; Batting (36-40): 36/0.
Fall of wickets: 1-16 (Jamshed), 2-19 (Younis), 3-55 (Misbah), 4-70 (Hafeez), 5-129 (Akmal), 6-133 (Azam), 7-178 (Afridi), 8-199 (Gul), 9-206 (Ajmal).
Bangladesh bowling: Mortaza 10-0-48-2, Nazmul 8-1-36-1, Razzak 10-3-26-2, Shahadat 9-0-63-0, Shakib 10-1-39-2, Mahmudullah 3-0-14-1.
Bangladesh: Tamim c Younis b Gul 60 (68b, 8x4) , Nazimuddin c Younis b Afridi 16 (52b) , Jahurul c Younis b Ajmal 0 (5b) , Nasir c Misbah b Gul 28 (63b, 1x4) , Shakib b Cheema 68 (72b, 7x4, 1x6) , M. Rahim c Jamshed b Cheema 10 (8b, 1x4) , Mahmudullah (not out) 17 (16b, 1x4) , M. Mortaza c Jamshed b Ajmal 18 (9b, 2x4) , A. Razzak b Cheema 6 (8b) , Shahadat (not out) 0 (1b) ; Extras (lb-5, w-4, nb-2): 11; Total (for eight wkts. in 50 overs): 234.
Power Plays: One (Overs 1-10): 35/0; Bowling (16-20): 8/2; Batting(36-40): 21/0.
Fall of wickets: 1-68 (Nazimuddin), 2-68 (Jahurul), 3-81 (Tamim), 4-170 (Nasir), 5-179 (Shakib), 6-190 (Rahim), 7-218 (Mortaza), 8-233 (Razzak).
Pakistan bowling: Hafeez 10-0-30-0, Gul 10-2-65-2, Ajmal 10-2-40-2, Afridi 10-1-28-1, Cheema 7-0-46-3, Azam 3-0-20-0.
Player-of-the-final: S. Afridi.
Player-of-the-tournament: Shakib Al Hasan.