Pakistan survived a Mohammad Ashraful scare to begin the defence of their world title at St Lucia with a 21-run win over Bangladesh. Kamran Akmal and Salman Butt had laid the foundations with a 142-run stand that should've put the game beyond Bangladesh. But Ashraful, with Shakib Al Hasan for company, took a real pop at an imposing 173-run target, before Mohammad Sami swung a slow-burning game decisively Pakistan's way.
Bangladesh had been poor for vast chunks of the game, first with the ball, and then in starting the chase. But Ashraful's forceful 91-run stand with Shakib brought them close enough to get Pakistan jittery with five overs to go. Sami, on his T20I debut, ensured it wasn't to be with a fine two-wicket over to effectively end the game.
Mohammad Aamer had throttled Bangladesh's start and Ashraful arrived with trouble brewing. Having typically tried all manner of unnecessary improvisation initially, Ashraful settled down to playing normal strokes.
It's asked often why he doesn't play those more, and let this be another time. He quickly deposited Abdul Razzaq for a wonderful six over midwicket, but really cranked up the heat when he took on Pakistan's captain next.
The first ball of Shahid Afridi's spell, the 11th over, was driven exquisitely over extra cover but it was in his next over that he really shook Pakistan up. Again he lofted Afridi, but with such grace and timing that the ball fairly sailed over long-off. A couple of balls later, he went squarer and soon after brought up his fifty.
Shakib meanwhile was showing the world once again why he is such a special young man. He never panicked, which can't often be said of Ashraful, and went about choosing his spots almost at will. Saeed Ajmal was heaved for one and Mohammad Hafeez was slog-swept for two maximums and suddenly Bangladesh had recovered from 36 for 2 to 115 for two after 14.
As so often, however, it wasn't to be and the surprise was that it was Shakib who perished first. Afridi took a gamble in bringing back an uncertain Sami, but it paid off as Shakib fell and Mahmudullah followed a few balls later. Ashraful still went on, dishing out some serious stick to Afridi, before falling, inevitably, to an improvised paddle, signaling a brave end.
Pakistan's big bonus, alongside Sami's effort, was Butt's earlier contribution.
He has appeared ill-suited to the format, unable to work gaps and not blessed with the power that gets poorer batsmen more runs. But he has a good ODI record and the intent was there from the start with a first-ball boundary.
From thereon, at regular intervals he would dance down, move away, find gaps or go aerial and went about as quietly as you can in reaching fifty off 29 balls. There was no violence, just clear-headed intent and faith in his regular strokes.
His improved leg-side game was on display as well; in three successive overs after the 10th, he swept Shakib, slog-swept Abdur Razzak and slapped debutant Suhrawadi Shuvo over long-on for sixes.
Akmal gave him predictable company, almost immediately trying to set the agenda. A bold statement was made against left-arm spin - Bangladesh's most potent weapon - straight away, as he twice swept away Abdur Razzak in the second over.
He was the one who took risks, almost paying for it when a miscued pull was fluffed by Ashraful. They were to pay for it as Akmal did what he does best. Out came the cuts, the scything cover drives, the pulls and the occasional mind-boggling slap over extra cover. All the while singles and doubles flowed on the large ground, giving Akmal a comfortable 73.
Bangladesh were unable to string together an over of good balls. It wasn't until the 16th over, when they claimed Akmal finally, that they bowled an over without conceding at least one boundary. They recovered, not allowing any more in the final overs but the damage had been done.