Pakistan crush hapless Bangladesh
Pakistan opened the Kitply Cup with a comprehensive 70-run victory: their 12th straight win equalled the joint second-longest ODI streak. They had won all five in an ODI series against Bangladesh in Pakistan recently, and home advantage didn't make a difference as hosts Bangladesh once again could not match up against a tougher opponent.
After a series of short, sharp showers curtailed the match to a 40-over affair, half-centuries from Salman Butt and Mohammad Yousuf took Pakistan to a commanding 233. In reply, Bangladesh were rarely in the hunt - Wahab Riaz and Shahid Afridi took three wickets each as the hosts crawled to 163 for 8 in their allotted overs. Mohammad Ashraful made a fighting, unbeaten 56 but it came at too pedestrian a pace to be a serious threat.
Bangladesh were on the back foot right from the time Pakistan were put in by Ashraful in conditions which were expected to be more conducive to the bowling side. Butt continued his irrepressible form against the hosts, making his fifth consecutive score above 50, while Yousuf played a classy, composed knock before Pakistan lost their way in the final ten overs.
The visitors got off to a steady start with Butt, who amassed 451 runs in the recent five-match ODI series, scoring the bulk of the runs. After a cagey beginning, he provided the innings impetus. Shahadat Hossain's short deliveries were tackled with a rasping cut and a mistimed pull, and after nearly holing out to cover, Butt confidently reeled off four boundaries in a short span, pushing the run-rate to nearly six.
Kamran Akmal, the other opener, was subdued until the ninth over, when he shuffled across the stumps and dispatched an off-stump delivery to midwicket for four. An imperious six over long-off followed and with Butt scoring freely at the other end, Pakistan raced to an ominous 69 for no loss after 11 overs.
Debutant Dolar Mahmud provided the first breakthrough as an Akmal flash, devoid of any footwork, took the outside-edge and wicketkeeper Mushfiqur Rahim, making a comeback, took a sharp diving catch. It became 75 for 2 the next ball, as Younis Khan was run out thanks to an athletic effort from Raqibul Hasan at midwicket.
Butt, who had been rampant against the faster bowlers - racing to 48 off 43 balls - was tied down by Bangladesh's trio of spinners. Kapali, in particular, kept him quiet as his last 22 runs came in singles before he hit one straight to long-on. At the other end, Yousuf made a circumspect start against Razzak before upping his scoring-rate with a bunch of leg-side boundaries. The fours were interspersed with numerous risk-free drives for singles as he smoothly progressed to his 62nd ODI fifty.
Pakistan were poised for a massive total with the score on 178 for 3 after 30 overs. Kapali, however, dismissed both Yousuf and Shahid Afridi in an over as only 13 came off four overs. Misbah-ul-Haq's big-hitting fetched him 39 off 22 balls, but after he fell on the first ball of the 38th over, Pakistan collapsed dramatically in the final three overs from 229 for 6 to 233 all out.
Pakistan's new-ball bowlers, getting a hint of movement, consolidated the advantage the batsmen had provided by keeping the scoring-rate down. Just as Bangladesh thought the main threats, Sohail Tanvir and Umar Gul, had been seen off, Riaz struck with his second ball - Shahriar Nafees edging a full delivery to the wicketkeeper. Tamim Iqbal was foxed by a loopy delivery from Afridi - who was getting the legbreak to turn appreciably - as he tried to up the tempo.
Afridi has not been in the best of form with the bat but underscored his effectiveness as a bowler with a superb spell, finishing with 3 for 19. When he removed Mushfiqur in the 27th over, Bangladesh's slim hopes evaporated. Ashraful battled on but scored at an inexplicably slow pace even as the wickets tumbled and the asking-rate climbed alarmingly. With just one other batsman scoring more than 20, Bangladesh never mounted a serious challenge and dawdled along till the end of their 40 overs.
Given the short duration of the tournament, it's very tough for a team to recover from a slip-up, and the huge margin of defeat dents Bangladesh's net run-rate, making their route to the final even more arduous.
Siddarth Ravindran is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo