August 23, 2003

Pakistan eye victory despite Bashar's century

Close Pakistan 112 for 1 (Hameed 68*, Hafeez 36*) and 346 need another 105 runs to beat Bangladesh 288 and 274 (Bashar 108, Saleh 60; Shabbir 5-48)
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Mashrafee-bin-Murtoza: Bangladesh's cutting edge

Pakistan overcame the early loss of Taufeeq Umar to make steady but unspectacular progress towards the victory target of 217 at the National Stadium in Karachi. Yasir Hameed, the hero of the first innings, was again the scourge of the Bangladesh bowling with 68, and he was helped along by Mohammad Hafeez, whose 36 was a curious mixture of elegance, luck and poor shot selection. At the close, Pakistan were 112 for 1, just 105 runs short of rudely awakening millions of Bangladeshis from their dreams of glory.

Bangladesh had dominated till well into the afternoon, until a calamitous collapse - prompted by some accurate bowling from Shabbir Ahmed - saw them stumble from the heights of 251 for 5 to 274 all out. Habibul Bashar made a superb 108, but then threw it away, while Rajin Saleh's gritty marathon ended at 60. No one else made a contribution of note, a fact that the team may well come to rue in the dim light of evening.

They made a cautious start in the morning, though Bashar was quickly into his stride with a square-driven four off Shoaib Akhtar. He was fortunate that a thumping drive off Hafeez just eluded Yousuf Youhana's outstretched fingertips at deep midwicket. And if that wasn't good luck enough, an inside edge off Akhtar's bowling spun back just short of the stumps.

But Bangladesh's best batsman would not be denied, and a deft deflection down to short third man off Umar Gul saw him to 100, prompting sustained applause from the dressing room and the small smattering of spectators.

It was Bashar's penchant for the spectacular that undid him. Danish Kaneria, who had persisted in pitching short and wide most of the morning, finally got one in the slot. Bashar leant back and had an almighty swing, but it didn't even go as far as the average sand wedge - straight to Shabbir at cover (194 for 4). Bashar's 108 had spanned almost five hours, but the manner in which he gave it away took some of the sheen.

Moments later, Kaneria sneaked a googly through Kapali's bat and pad, prompting a few anxious faces in the Bangladesh dressing room. They needn't have worried. With Saleh showing the adhesive qualities of a periwinkle on rock, and Mashud providing stolid support, Pakistan's best efforts were thwarted. Akhtar ran in and gave it his best shot, but the bowling seldom threatened a Bangladesh side that had suddenly discovered the access codes to Test match batting.

Saleh, who held the innings together, triggered the collapse. He had shown commendable resolve, concentration and courage to get past 50, eschewing any fancy strokes and putting away the loose balls with a flourish. He was undone by one in the corridor from Shabbir, which he could only edge behind to Rashid Latif (251 for 6). His innings had spanned 235 balls, and given Bangladesh a fighting chance.

What followed wasn't so encouraging. Khalid Mahmud, who could serious consider writing a book on how not to lead by example, lasted one ball, shuffling across to be trapped plumb in front by Shabbir.

Khaled Mashud had been an admirable foil for Saleh, but with wickets falling, he became acutely conscious of the need for more runs. With that aim in mind, he charged Danish Kaneria. The extra loop and turn undid him, and Latif did the rest behind the stumps (254 for 8).

Tapash Baisya slammed a four, and Mashrafe Mortaza a huge six in a last burst of defiance, but Shabbir, who finished with 5 for 48, came back to wrap things up. As in the morning, Bangladesh had squandered an advantageous position.

Tapash gave them a brief glimmer of hope when he had Umar caught at short cover by Saleh, but Hameed, who started his innings with three classy boundaries, and Hafeez slammed the door shut emphatically in an extended final session which revealed that Bangladesh are still a bowler short. It could still have been different had Mashud clung on to a edge from Hafeez's bat, off Mortaza's bowling, late in the day. It would have taught them though that there's no place in cricket for ifs and buts.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden CricInfo.