Individuals shine in tournament opener
Three men made very different comebacks and another issued a scathing response on a day when two excellent allrounders and a potential allrounder kept everyone on their toes.
It was that sort of a day in Mirpur. Mashrafe Mortaza returned to international cricket after almost a year while Shahadat Hossain and Nasir Jamshed were playing ODIs after two and three years respectively. Tamim Iqbal made a statement with his bat and Shakib Al Hasan, Mohammad Hafeez and Umar Gul manoeuvered the tail end of the match to a finale that did justice to the entire game, much like what had happened in Dambulla two years ago.
The opening day of the Asia Cup's latest edition in fact remained as exciting as the corresponding game from 2010, when a scintillating Shahid Afridi century almost overturned the hosts Sri Lanka.
Afridi though had nothing to do with the bat on Sunday while his bowling became less of a mystery to the Bangladeshi batsmen. Hafeez however remained a tough proposition with the ball, despite Nazimuddin and Tamim handling him confidently in the early stages. The man known to his team-mates as the "professor" came back for a third spell to remove the left-handed opener Tamim and Mahmudullah off successive deliveries. Though the latter can count himself unlucky as the ball appeared to be going down the leg side as the television replays suggested, Tamim's dismissal was vital.
The delivery was the sort of a slider that Hafeez often bowls to left-handers while coming from round the wicket. This one appeared to be dipping less but Tamim under-edged his attempted dab onto the boot and it ricocheted onto the stumps.
But before his innings ended on 64 off 89 balls, the Chittagong batsman played a measured knock that immensely helped him make a point. As he reached the half-century off 75 balls, Tamim pointed towards to someone in particular towards the dressing-room as an acknowledgement. The celebration was of relief as it brought him a 50-plus score in ODIs after seven months, but more importantly it silences some of his critics for the time being.
After Tamim and Mahmudullah exited, it was once again down to Shakib, the man who has routinely stood firm in adversities. He is one of the very few middle-order batsmen in this team who understands the importance of the single. He doesn't only rely on them, he uses it as his strength to move the fielders around to his liking.
With Nasir Hossain for company, a crisis man at the tender age of 21, the pair added 89 for the sixth wicket in 14.5 overs, keeping Bangladesh within striking distance. But that hope was ended by Gul, whose accuracy makes him Misbah-Ul-Haq's most reliable weapon at the death. After Nasir had struck him for two successive boundaries to reduce the margin to 39 runs, the next ball was a straight one that found the batsman leaving a slight gap where it matters; lazy footwork for one but finding that little breach takes a lot of skill.
Gul's batting too was vitally important at the stage he came in. As Misbah left on 198 for 7, Pakistan were in danger of getting bowled out for less than 220, but the fast bowler forged a feisty stand with Sarfraz Ahmed. Gul was severe on Mortaza, hammering 16 off his final over to spoil the returning fast bowler's figures, which had promise to remain as miserly as his opening spell.
Jamshed and Hafeez hardly made a dash for the big shots as they built a steady partnership, which ended in the 28th over with Jamshed's run out. Shahadat too showed some verve and he was lucky too, picking up three wickets in his second spell. Hafeez, who batted so correctly to make 89, fell to a pull shot (as did Asad Shafiq) while Younis Khan skied a ball that he had readied himself to hit towards midwicket. After Shahadat's strikes, Shakib was on a hat-trick by removing a careless Umar Akmal and by his presence of mind when Afridi chipped one back at him.
Shakib's successful juggling act, aided somewhat by Misbah's helmet at the other end, should have been the turning point from where Bangladesh should have pressed their authority. Instead, it was probably Nasir's dismissal that took the game away from the home side.
Hafeez and Shakib ultimately held a showdown of a potential rivalry while Mashrafe, Tamim, Shahadat and Jamshed chose the occasion to justify their inclusion. One of them got to prove a board president wrong.
Mohammad Isam is senior sports reporter at the Daily Star in Dhaka