Despite the absence of Dollar Mahmud, Abdur Razzak (recovering from a thigh strain) and a half-fit Habibul Bashar, Khulna had enough quality to thrash Barisal to establish a clear gap at the top of the NCL table. Exactly halfway through this year's competition, Khulna remain the team to beat although second-placed Rajshahi were back to their winning ways with a victory at home against Dhaka. Meanwhile, Sylhet's miserable run continued, the only team yet to register a win.
Barisal captain Shahriar Nafees put Khulna in to bat in Bogra and his bowlers Talha Jubair and Sajidul Islam struck immediately, removing the openers with 25 on the board. Six runs later it got dodgier for the hosts when Bashar had to leave the field following a muscle injury. From that point however Shakib-Al-Hasan dictated terms. In a 128-run stand with Tushar Imran, Shakib's contribution was 81, off 105 balls. Shakib, the leading run scorer in this year's NCL also went past 400 runs during the course of his innings. When he departed, Imran kept things under control and at stumps was unbeaten on 122 as Khulna ended the day at 312 for 6. Ziaur Rahman compounded the misery for Barisal with 58 and Khulna were finally bowled out for 396 after Imran had fallen for 165. Within five overs, Barisal lost Nafees and Hannan Sarkar, both lbw to Syed Rasel before Imran Ahmed (60) and Raqibul Hasan (38) staged a fightback with a stand of 96. However, they weren't prepared for Murad Khan who clinically dismantled Barisal with his offbreaks. Grabbing the opportunity to play as Razzak's replacement, Khan returned figures of 7 for 53 off 31 overs as Barisal were shot out for 206. Following on, their openers Nafees (0) and Sarkar (15) were again sent packing by Rasel. Raqibul (57) was run out and Khan chipped in with two quick wickets in the middle order as Barisal went into the last day on a hopeless 133 for 6. Rasel and Mashrafe Mortaza needed just over an hour in the final morning to wrap up the tail as Khulna won by an innings and three runs.
At the Rajshahi Stadium , Dhaka captain Mohammad Ashraful sent the home team in on a lively track that had a distinct shade of grass and some true bounce. Despite that, Dhaka's three seamers weren't effective enough, as Rajshahi ended the first day on 257 for 5 on the back of half-centuries from Farhad Hossain (55), captain Khaled Mashud (68*) and allrounder Mushfiqur Rahman (65). Mashud fell early on day two, but Farhad Reza's unbeaten 32 took to score to 298. Dhaka stumbled to 96 for 4 as seamer Alamgir Kabir took three wickets. Mehrab Hossan Jr. (43) and Shamsur Rahman (55) steadied the innings with an 88-run partnership for the fifth wicket but Dhaka denied the opposition full bonus points by declaring overnight on 205 for 9 on day three. Mahbubul Alam, Dhaka's main wicket-taker in the NCL, then brought some excitement in the match by taking the wickets of Junaid Siddique, Farhad Hossain and Mushfiqur to reduce the opposition to 66 for 6. Reza single-handedly altered the course of the game, with an unbeaten 98 at stumps as Rajshahi stretched the lead beyond 300. Reza unfortunately fell short of his ton, lbw off the first ball from Alam on the fourth day, finishing with figures of 5 for 47 and a match haul of nine wickets. Dhaka depended on Ashraful (58) to chase the target of 323 but Reza again made a decisive contribution by dismissing him, while left-arm spinner Saqlain Sajib did the rest. He cleaned up the lower middle-order and the tail to finish with 5 for 92 as Dhaka were humbled by 70 runs.
Opening batsman Gazi Salahuddin's 136 helped Chittagong to a six-wicket win against Sylhet in Chittagong . Aftab Ahmed's 46 was the only other innings of note but Salahuddin's effort enabled Chittagong make 308 after they had opted to bat first. Sylhet then collapsed, quite inexplicably, on a decent batting track as Chittagong's pacers and spinners shot them out for 127. After following on, defeat loomed for Sylhet when they ended the third day on 76 for 4. Wicketkeeper Golam Mabud made a defiant 110, adding 87 for the sixth wicket with Bangladesh wicketkeeper Mushfiqur Rahim (43) and then the tail wagged to set Chittagong 161. Left-arm spinner Enamul haque Jnr bowled an effective spell on the final day and got rid of Salahuddin, Nafees Iqbal, Nazimuddin and Aftab but captain Ehsanul Haque (34*) and Dhiman Ghosh (47*) steered their side home.
An unbeaten 99 by Imran Ahmed and a half-century by Hannan Sarkar (70) helped Barisal to a comfortable four-wicket win against Khulna in Bogra . Imrul Kayesh made 55 and the other specialist Khulna batsmen all got good starts but failed to push on as they finished on a disappointing 240.
An unbeaten 73 by Naeem Islam rescued Rajshahi from 156 for 7 to a match-winning total of 224 against Dhaka at the Rajshahi Stadium . Junaid Siddique made 59, while Dhaka's left-arm spinner Mosharraf Hossain kept a check on the scoring rate in the middle overs by taking 3 for 18 from his ten overs. In front of an intimidating local crowd, the Dhaka chase never took off after Shafaq Al Zabir accounted for openers Javed Omar (9) and Al Sahariar (11). Ashraful (55) played a lone hand but the match was effectively over when he was the sixth man out with the total at 150. The 21-run victory enabled Rajshahi to maintain their unbeaten record.
An attacking half-century by Tapash Baishya in Chittagong , belting four sixes, rescued Sylhet from 109 for 6 to post a winning score of 210. In reply, Aftab blazed to 32 off 21 balls it looked as if Chittagong were going to run away with the match but the steady fall of wickets at crucial moments led to their undoing. Enamul Haque Jnr took 3 for 23 as Chittagong fell short by 25 runs.
Player of the Week - Farhad Reza
Though team work has been the main ingredient behind Rajshahi's success in both forms of the NCL, allrounder Reza has managed to distinguish himself. As a batsman, he has fitted in in all positions in the middle order, and is his captain's trump card to bowl in pressure situations. His fielding has always been an asset as well. A dasher by nature, Reza's 98 in the second innings against Dhaka was however a mark of his growing maturity as he left no stones unturned in an effort to occupy the crease. Then with Dhaka just beginning to look threatening chasing 323 he took three wickets including the most crucial one of Ashraful.
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Rabeed Imam is editor of tigercricket.com