September 3, 2003

Pakistan regain advantage after Bashar fightback

The Wisden Bulletin by Wisden CricInfo staff

Close Bangladesh 248 for 6 (Habibul Bashar 72, Rajin Saleh 49, Umar Gul 3 for 65) Scorecard

Trying perhaps to compensate for a batting debacle that lost them the second Test, Bangladesh put up a confident display of batting on the first day of the final Test at Multan. But Pakistan struck back late in the day to grab their share of the honours as Bangladesh reached 248 for 6.

The chief protagonist of that batting effort was Habibul Bashar, who has looked the most comfortable batsman on either side during this series. Making his fourth score of fifty-plus in this series, Bashar, as always, refused to curtail his penchant to go for his strokes. Although he played and missed a few times, he also brought off some magnificent drives and pulls in his 72.



Umar Gul celebrates after getting Hannan Sarkar out in the first hour of play

It was an intelligent innings. Umar Gul had Hannan Sarkar (13) edging to Rashid Latif when Bangladesh had just 28 on the board, but Bashar forged an effective combination with Javed Omar. Bashar started in characteristically fiery fashion before settling down, and both he and Omar were quick to pounce on the bad balls - and there were plenty - to dispatch them for four.

Pakistan's bowling in the morning was ragged, especially considering the distinct tinges of green on the wicket. Apart from Gul, the seamers pitched short and wide more than anywhere else. Yasir Ali, one of Pakistan's three debutants, was particularly erratic in the first session. Bashar capitalised, and the second-wicket partnership looked headed for prosperity at lunch.

Immediately after, though, Gul removed Omar (38), caught at slip fending off a delivery that kicked viciously off a length (102 for 2). Bashar then tried to effect a compromise between the need for runs and the importance of his staying at the wicket, but he did not get much support from Mohammad Ashraful. Ashraful began promisingly, but yet again, he could not convert that start into a significant score. After striking two pleasing fours, he departed for 12, padding up to a quicker one from Saqlain Mushtaq (133 for 3).

Rajin Saleh, however, took on the role of steady anchor at the other end, so it came against the run of play when Bashar fell after tea. Giving Yasir his first Test wicket, Bashar nibbled at a ball just outside the off stump and tamely edged it to Latif (166 for 4).

When Alok Kapali (11) played inside the line to Gul and saw his off stump cartwheel out of the ground (179 for 5), Bangladesh were in dire straits. Shabbir Ahmed - who started the day with a spate of no-balls - Gul and Yasir Ali had suddenly rediscovered their second wind, while Saqlain bowled with craft and three close-in fielders.

Patience was clearly needed, and Saleh and Khaled Mashud provided it. Resolutely defending Saqlain on the front foot and choosing their strokes judiciously, the pair looked certain to take Bangladesh through to stumps without further casualties. A freak dismissal nipped that hope in the bud; Mashud drove a ball from Yasir to the bowler's left, and the ball ricocheted off an outstretched hand at an oblique angle to hit the non-striker's stumps. Saleh, one short of a gritty fifty, was out of his ground (241 for 6).

No further wickets fell before the close of play, but Pakistan had clearly wrested the game back in their favour. Khaled Mahmud and Mashud, the current and former captains of Bangladesh, must bat with considerable determination if their side is to apply the kind of pressure they managed for brief moments earlier in this series.