With a number of big names missing due to international commitments and defection to the Indian Cricket League (ICL), this year's NCL has been the most open contest in recent years, and traditional powerhouses like Dhaka and Khulna are finding it tough going. Barisal have cashed in on this, and continued to surprise in round six. Their top-of-the-table clash in Bogra turned into a no-contest as they stormed past Rajshahi to lead with a crushing 222-run victory. Dhaka's draw at Chittagong pushed them to third. There was no change at the bottom though Sylhet managed a draw against Khulna.
There was little sign of what was coming when Rajshahi ruled day one at the Shahid Chandu stadium after being asked to bowl. Quick bowlers Mohammad Shahzada and Alamgir Kabir had the Barisal top five back in the pavilion with the total on 130, and left-arm spinner Suhrawadi Shuvo mopped up the tail to shoot the home team out for 166. Barisal would have been in a bigger hole but captain Hannan Sarkar (77) saved the blushes. By close Rajshahi had raced to 96 for 2 in 27.1 overs. There was a turnaround the next morning when Barisal took four wickets for 20 and Rajshahi were all out for 204. The experienced Talha Jubair (5 for 41) kept the batsman playing at his seamers and was rewarded. Barisal were firmly back in the match when they finished on 177 for 3 at stumps on the second day. Overnight batsmen Sarkar and teenage prospect Nasir Hossain took their fourth wicket stand to 92 before the captain was lbw to Farhad Hossain, just one shy of a deserved hundred. Nasir hit 92 before Barisal's innings ended at 342, leaving the visitors with 20 overs to negotiate on day three in their pursuit of 305. An uncharacteristic collapse followed, Rajshahi losing their first three wickets without a run on the board, and it was nearly all over for them when they closed day three on 48 for 7. Barisal completed the formalities the next day with left-arm spinner Tariqul Islam finishing with 5 for 21 from a 5.4 overs.
At the Bir Shrestha Shahid Ruhul Amin Stadium in Chittagong, Faisal Hossain cracked his third ton (102) in as many matches but, apart from him and No. 4 Tariq Ahmed (83), none of the hosts' other batsmen really took advantage of the flattest first-class surface in the country after deciding to bat. Chittagong were dismissed for 314 before lunch on day two after which Dhaka crawled to 157 for 3 at stumps off 73 overs. Day three belonged to Marshall Ayub who took his overnight score of 58 to a career-best 181 and Dhaka declared on 366 for 9. Any prospects of a result in this match was taken out of the equation when Chittagong went into day four on 125 for 2, with opener Nafees Iqbal unbeaten on 52. Chittagong lost Nafees (77), Tariq, and Faisal within 10 runs to slide to 177 for 5 but No. 7 Masumud Dowla eased to 102 from 211 balls and Chittagong continued the batting practice to reach 314 for 7.
Sylhet decided to bat at the District Stadium, and were going along nicely at 211 for 2 after Mithun Ali had clobbered Khulna's three-pronged pace attack for a 110-ball 106. He pulled and cut anything slightly short and cleared the boundary five times in a savage display of power. With No. 3 Saikat Ali (88), Mithun put on 182 in just 38 overs but with his dismissal, the wheels came off and Sylhet were all out for 300 inside the first hour on day two. Captain Rajin Saleh was stranded on 49 not out. Khulna made a steady start with openers Amit Majumder and Ashraful Aziz sharing 97. Aziz went on to make 105 and Khulna sat pretty on 250 for 5 at stumps. Solid contributions from Raihan Anas (73) and wicketkeeper Mohammad Salim (48) helped push Khulna to 364. For the umpteenth time Nabil Samad was the pick of the Sylhet bowlers, claiming 5 for 81. With less then a day and a half remaining, the obvious result would have been a draw but Sylhet almost handed the match to Khulna when they were bundled out for 198 midway through the final day. Khulna spinner Atiqur Rahman wrecked the Sylhet batting with 5 for 37 and the hosts were only rescued from a disaster by No. 6 Kamrul Islam who made an unbeaten 89. Khulna had a reasonably easy target of 135 in 30 overs but could only manage 74 for 4.
Player of the week: Hannan Sarkar
The Barisal captain had burst on to the scene with back-to-back Test half-centuries against the Australian bowling attack in its peak in 2003. His form and fortunes took a dive after that and the promise was never rekindled. This week however he was on song and his knocks of 77 and 99 brought high-flying Rajshahi back down to earth.