Rajshahi gather steam
The title chase just got hotter with Rajshahi threatening to go for the jugular after comprehensive victories in rounds seven and eight. Such was their dominance that both Chittagong and Dhaka were floored at home and, with two more games remaining till the season's curtains, it looks increasingly likely that Rajshahi will have the last laugh as they are due to host last-placed Sylhet and a lacklustre Khulna at the Divisional Stadium. Plucky Barisal are only two points behind after a hard-fought draw in round eight but their next opponents are the unpredictable Chittagong and Dhaka.
Losing to Rajshahi was a massive blow for Dhaka, who are 19 points behind the leaders at third position, and seemingly out of contention. The next round of matches will have further significance with the national stars available for their divisional sides and for the players it will be an opportunity to catch the eyes of the selectors and get a spot in the Bangladesh squad which will be announced after the round is over.
Rajshahi's success owes much to their allround commitment; they may lack the dashers and elegant strokemakers yet nevertheless get a result when it matters. This season they lost Farhad Reza to the ICL, Junaid Siddique to international commitments, while Khaled Mashud has lost his touch.
One player to have really stepped up is Suhrawadi Shuvo. His 56 was crucial in Rajshahi getting 240 in the first innings and then he bagged a five-for as Chittagong were humbled by eight wickets in round seven. This week he took 2 for 13 as Dhaka were bundled out for 142 at the Shere Bangla National Stadium.
Before Shuvo's parsimonious spell it was pacer Delwar Hossain who did the damage with 5 for 45. The opener Jahurul Islam fell 17 short of a deserved ton but once again the irrepressible Shuvo stole the show with 85 to give Rajshahi a 141-run lead. By lunch on day three Dhaka were in deep trouble at 49 for 4 with captain Javed Omar, who had braved illness to make 112 from No. 7 against Sylhet in an earlier round, out for 9. Fresh from his 103 against Sylhet, Mahmudullah Riyad justified his promotion to No. 5 and added 99 with the free-stroking Shamsur Rahman (49). He made 105 and Dhaka were bowled out for 256, Delwar completing ten wickets in the match with with 5 for 60. Needing 116, Rajshahi cruised to the target in 24 overs with Jahurul hitting an unbeaten 68.
At the Sylhet Stadium, hundreds from young opener Saikat Ali (111) and the experienced Golam Rahman (116) allowed the winless home team declare their first innings at 366 for 9 on day two after they had opted to bat. Barisal replied with half centuries from the in-form duo of Nasiruddin Faruque and Hannan Sarkar and a cameo from Arafat Salahuddin (49) to get to 270. Talha Jubair was unable to conjure the same spark that got him eight wickets in an innings victory over Khulna in round seven, Imtiaz Hossain (82) and Rajin Saleh (71) helped Sylhet to 258 for 7. The target of 348 in just under two sessions was beyond Barisal, who opted for safety and batting practice and were 178 for 6 when the game ended.
The match at the Khulna Divisional Stadium finished in three days with the hosts overcoming embarrassment to beat Chittagong by 35 runs. Khulna's first innings 301 proved vital in what was a pace-dominated match, for in their second innings they were blown away for 54 - the lowest innings total this season - by the nippy Kamrul (5 for 21). Set 235 to win in two days, Chittagong folded for 199, with Faisal Hossain's 79 the stand-out innings. Khulna's pace trio of Ziaur Rahman, Dolar Mahmud and Robiul Islam were most instrumental in the win; they shared all but two of the Chittagong wickets.
Player of the week - Mahmudullah
Loss of confidence and form had cost Mahmudullah a place for the tour of South Africa but he has done little wrong since. His105 against Rajshahi may have been in a lost cause but it was his second in consecutive innings.
Rabeed Imam is the editor of TigerCricket.com