Bangladesh v Pakistan, Asia Cup final, Mirpur March 23, 2012

Determined duo comes to Pakistan's aid

The performances of Sarfraz Ahmed and Aizaz Cheema played a critical role in the outcome of the Asia Cup final

Pakistan's biggest star may have won the Man-of-the-Match award, but the Asia Cup would not have been won had it not been for crucial contributions from two players who are less celebrated. Fast bowler Aizaz Cheema's bowling at the death and wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed's career-high, unbeaten 46, after walking in at No. 8 played a huge role in separating the sides.

In Pakistan's versatile attack, Cheema is seen as the weakest link. Shahid Afridi's mix of legbreaks and fast googlies have routinely confounded batsmen, Saeed Ajmal and his mystery variations make him the top-ranked spinner in the world, Mohammad Hafeez has shown himself as a credible option for regularly bowling 10 overs of tidy off-spin, and Umar Gul, despite a recent dip in form, with his reverse swing and on-demand yorkers is seen as a threat.

Afridi bowled out early and strangled the runs in the middle overs, while Hafeez finished his quota in the batting Powerplay. As the match headed to the final ten overs, though the asking-rate had climbed, it was felt Bangladesh weren't out of it - Cheema or Hammad Azam had to still bowl four overs, which could be targetted.

That seemed to be Bangladesh's plan as well, as Shakib Al Hasan launched the only six off the innings on the first ball of Cheema's final spell, immediately putting the bowler, who is still in his first year of international cricket, under pressure. Cheema, though, bounced back superbly, mixing up his lengths and his pace to not concede a single boundary for the rest of his spell.

More importantly, he got the potentially-decisive wickets of Shakib and Mushfiqur Rahim. A confident Shakib was shuffling around the crease every delivery, but he missed a paddle off a length ball and was bowled behind his legs. Another length ball that Mushfiqur wanted to send to the grand stand only went as far as the deep square-leg fielder.

Still, Bangladesh didn't give up, and they took it down to the final ball. Cheema again delivered, with a yorker on leg stump that was too good for Shahadat Hossain to hit what could have been the most famous shot in Bangladesh cricket history.

"I think Cheema was very confident, and Misbah [ul-Haq] did a great job as a captain," Hafeez said. "It was a pressure game and Cheema was the one who was really confident to bowl the last over, and on the last ball we were confident he would bowl a good ball."

Shahadat would have needed to hit a six off the final ball if it wasn't for some shoddy fielding off the previous delivery, when the man at long-off wasn't quick enough to stop the second and Sarfraz then flicked the ball towards the stumps to concede an overthrow.

But for that gaffe, Sarfraz fully justified the faith shown by the side in picking him for the final. Despite having Hafeez and Afridi as the two allrounders in the XI, Pakistan haven't nailed down the balance they want in the side.

They have grappled with the wicketkeeper conundrum for a while now. Is it better to pick a specialist gloveman, especially with three quality spinners in the side, or go in with either a specialist batsman or bowler or an allrounder in that spot? Pakistan have tried everything in this tournament: playing Sarfraz and the extra batsman in Asad Shafiq in the first game, Sarfraz and an allrounder Azam in the next, replacing Sarfraz with the extra bowler in Wahab Riaz against India. Riaz's meltdown in the India game, and the fact that they would have exactly five bowling options in case Shafiq played, forced them to go with Sarfraz and Azam in the final.

When Afridi's typically manic cameo came to a close in the 42nd over, Pakistan were seven down and looked unlikely to last the full stretch. It was down to Sarfraz to lift Pakistan from what seemed a sub-200 score, which even their world-class attack would have had little chance of defending, to a more competitive one. His boundaries off Shahadat, including in the final over when the bowler doled out freebies, boosted both Pakistan's spirits and their score.

When it came down to the crunch, both the headliners and the unsung players did their part for Pakistan, the combination of which proved just good enough to take down Bangladesh.

Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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