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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Zaaid on March 26, 2012, 2:14 GMT

    @Sports4Youth They should do it as soon as possible. Apart from all the technique and performance thingies; younis and misbah are not going to make it to the next world cup. so there is no point in playing them in the ODIs. Indeed Gul used to be our 3rd pacer and he really does not qualify the standards of leading our pace attack. I dont know if you remember or not but Misbah choked similarly in one of the t20s in our domestic playing for Faislabad. So yeah; i also believe he does not have that finishing ability. Regarding the batting order in Asia cup final in my personal opinion big matches are not for experiments. They continued the batting order of previous games and it was a right thing i feel. Yeah .. you are so right. Sarfraz must be given the roles of Misbah/Younis. If it happens that would really be a plus !

  • RankPace on March 25, 2012, 8:03 GMT

    How long will it take to realise that Misbah should go from the one day and t20 games? How many more games is he going to spoil ? and for those who think misbah has improved the team performance since taking over as captain, they are wrong. Afridi was doing better. And now that Kamran is gone, afridi will do much better. dont blindly bring test players into one-day side and dont blindly bring one-day players in test side.

  • mohammad on March 25, 2012, 3:21 GMT


  • Cricket on March 24, 2012, 19:35 GMT

    Regarding the toss, i think Pakistan's streagth is bowling, so they should always try to see what time is best for their bowling. Since Pakistan's weakness is bowling, they should not simply think of batting first and putting a big score on the board, as often they loose early wickets and get under pressure in rebuiliding the innings. I think the best thing to happen to pak cricet in the last 18 months has been the emergence of M.Hafeez in all formats of the game and also the return of form for Boom Boom Afridi. These two players are specilist bowlers and specialist batsmen. Real match winners. Ajmal has emerged to be a real champ. Now just find some good fast bolwers to support the three spinners and the team is a world beater.

  • Cricket on March 24, 2012, 19:28 GMT

    @ Zaaid :- Regarding Sarfraz, I think if handled properly he can become the next good thing to happen to Pak cricket. Now that the board is thinking of doing away with Misbah and Younis from the ODI's, their roles can be easily given to Sarfraz and moved up the order. Also in tests he can easliy be Matt Prior for Pakistan. It will be better for Pakistan if in the Test Matches Adnan is replaced by Sarfraz Ahmed. Adnan has limited batting capabilities and also he is very immature behind the stumps. Instead of focussing on his job and helping the captain with the refferals he gets excited and wants to refer everything, often resulting in wasted refferals early in the game. Also instead of chattering too much behind the game he should concentrate on his job, which he does not do. I think the sooner Sarfraz is intorduced in Test matches the bette it will be for Pakistan.

  • Cricket on March 24, 2012, 19:20 GMT

    @ Zaaid. Regarding Misbah's agressive approach while defending 237 and keeping 6 fielders in the circle. I see it differently. Getting just 236 was because of faulty batting order fixed by Misbah. None of the batsmen were in the right places. Players like Afridi should be given freedom and allowed a free hand, just lke India allows sehwag, Austalia allows Warner & Watson. WI used to allow C.Gayle. Afridi cannot bat under pressure and cannot construct a workman like innings. Also the presence of the two uncles (Younis & Misbah) does not help the team. But having got 236 I dont think Misbah had any choice with the field placements. It was more of a forced move instead of a tactical move. If you see all other matches were Pakistan got 250+ Misbah always used to spread the field, allow singles and let the game drift. Infact the low score forced him to be more aggressive. In the India game Misbah could not defend 330. I dont think his services are good for the ODI's.

  • Cricket on March 24, 2012, 19:07 GMT

    @ Zaaid. Reg Misbah & Younis in ODI's. When these two were selected for the world cup many people did not like their selection. Even I was with them, but at that time i did not express my displeasure at their selection because the team had lost three important members of the team (Amir, Asif & Salman). So i thought a little experience in the middle order would help. But i was wrong and in the semi final game once again Misbah proved what a CHOKER he is. This was also seen in the last T20 against England, not to mention the T20 world cup, final against India. Since the WC 2011 i have increasingly felt the need of getting rid of Younis & Misbah from the shorter version of the game. Misbah has an avg of 42 in the odi's , but at what cost ? He bats selfishliy and creates so much pressure on the other batsmen the wickets start falling at the other end. Pakistan will be better off without him. Younsters like Shafiq, Ahmed Shehzad or any other youngsters except I.Farhat will be good for team.

  • Cricket on March 24, 2012, 18:58 GMT

    @ Zaaid. Regarding Gul, I think he has been given far more opportunities than any other fast bowler without performing well. Normally in Pakistan there used to be so many fast bowlers of high caliber that when one fast bowlers does not perform well for short time, immediately some other bowler is ready to take his place. But now it has not happened for a long time, because the team was stuck will Gul for far too long. Gul was an ok third bowler during the days of S.Akhtar, M.Amir & M.Asif, though he had to sit out on many occassion. But since then he has dissapointed big time. He can't lead an attack. I think its time to move beyond Gul and start looking for new talents. I think the process should have started immediately when Gul perfomred very badly against WI in the 1st test. Even after that he did not perform well against SL & Bang. Still he was persisted and got exposed against England and the India game. Now if you want to prepare for the World Cup 2015 dont waste more time.

  • Cricket on March 24, 2012, 18:45 GMT

    @ Zaaid :- Thanx Zaaid, your response is well recieved. It appears we are on the same wave lenght. Also dont get me wrong, There is no question of me being offended for anything. Here we are only exchanging views in good faith and in the interest of cricket and team. Regarding Misbah, Younis & Gul if you were listening to Waqar's comments at the end of the finals game, he said that "Misbah is doing fine since taking over the captaincy, and now i am hearing that we will have different captains in different formats, and misbah being replaced etc." . . Well, now the rumors are that even before the finals were played and irrespective of the final's result, the board had decided that Misbah's role should be limited to Tests only. Also the board intends to do away with Younis, Gul & some others from ODI's. I am personally happy with the news. I hope it materialises. Your comments please.

  • Zaaid on March 24, 2012, 14:33 GMT

    @Sports4Youth no no .. i was talking about maRch; not maTch. Anyways, its a thing of past and i was just replying to an older comment of yours. and i apologise in case it offended you by any means. did not mean it like that. Regarding the selection; i am against the selection of Younis and Gul since years. Younis is a good test batsman but he NEVER performs for Pakistan in BIG matches. Being the senior batsman our middle order depends a lot on how he performs and he is always getting out on these low scores. Usually he would perform in matches like when we know that we have won the series or we are through to the final. Same for Umar Gul. That man just cannot take pressure. Hit him for a couple of boundaries and then see his line getting wavered. IMO we need players who have got the TEMPERAMENT thing. Misbah's LOIs days are over too; he should retire now with this Asia cup victory rather at end of some series with a humiliating defeat like England's.

  • No featured comments at the moment.