Rabeed Imam is the Bangladesh Cricket Board's media manager
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What was originally a hastily taken decision proved to be a lifeline for a number of cricketers as this season's NCL one-day version brought out the best in the World Cup hopefuls. The competition only got going after the weather had conspired to put the first class tournament off track after just one completed round of matches. The BCB then decided that in the interest of preparation for the World Cup, the four-dayers would be put on hold and the limited overs matches finished within a three-week period. Eventually, it was the overall class of Dhaka that triumphed in the final against a spirited Barisal. When curtains fell it was the lasting memories of an exhilarating climax with four teams neck and neck going into the final round, and the continuous domination of national team players that stood out.
Phase 1 - Round 4
With the 20 top players unavailable for this round because of a preparation camp for Zimbabwe's tour next month, the runs suddenly dried up. Dhaka collapsed against the steady Barisal attack at Mirpur, and were all out for 170 with Mehrab Hossain Jr. making 59. With such a paltry target unbeaten Barisal must have fancied a fourth straight win, but veteran Mohammad Sharif took a wicket in each of his first three overs, finishing with five for 20, while legspinner Nur Hossain nipped out the middle-order, taking three for 22, as Barisal were shot out for 136.
Plagued by injuries to key players and short on spirit, Sylhet were already out of contention for a second phase spot. In a game reduced to 45 overs due to rain at Bogra, they were scuttled for 94 by a ruthless Rajshahi, who won by ten wickets, with makeshift opener Farhad Reza hitting an unbeaten 77.
In another rain-shortened match, Chittagong could manage only 121 for eight in 23 overs against Khulna at Rajshahi. At 106 for 8 in the 21st over, Khulna appeared to have made a hash of the chase, before Ziaur Rahman (24 not out) carried them home. With four teams moving into the second phase, Chittagong's chances evaporated with this loss.
Phase 1 - Round 5
With qualification more or less ensured for both, the Barisal v Rajshahi clash at Mirpur was more about regional pride. Rajshahi's innings never took off as they laboured to 221 for nine. Anisur Rahman top scored with 61. Once again Barisal's bowlers all chipped in. When they batted, openers Hannan Sarker (58) and find-of-the-season Fazl-e-Rabbi (50) promised a hammering for Rajshahi, but once they got out the bowlers tightened the noose, and it took a boundary off the last ball by Arafat Salauddin to ensure victory by three wickets.
Paceman Mahbubul Alam blew Khulna away with four wickets in his two opening overs, and despite half centuries from Tushar Imran (53) and Sahagir Hossain (54), the total of 170 was never really going to challenge Dhaka, who crossed the target in the 36.5 overs with six wickets in hand. The big-hitting Anamul Hoque was unbeaten on 64.
In the contest of no-hopers, Chittagong finally gave a batting performance where all key men contributed. Nafis Iqbal hit 69, Faisal Hossain 58 and Aftab Ahmed struck 52 in their total of 251 for seven at Rajshahi. After his effort with the bat, Faisal proved even more destructive with the ball as his left-arm spin claimed five for 28. Sylhet went down by 121 runs.
Phase 2 - Round 1
As the stars returned after a two-round break, so did quality. Mohammad Ashraful's chanceless 111 not out off 103 balls and Uttam Sarker's 66 took Dhaka to a seemingly comfortable 271 for six against Khulna at Mirpur. Imrul Kayes (108) and Mohammad Mithun (59), however, kept Khulna in the game with a 140-run stand for the second wicket. When the last power play was on, Ziaur Rahman did what he does best and his unconquered 41-ball 42 saw Khulna home with four balls and four wickets in hand.
With Dhaka losing, Barisal had the chance to go atop the points chart at the Dhanmondi Cricket Stadium. With leading batsman Roqibul Hassan out with a groin injury, Fazl-e-Rabbi gave them the single-innings inspiration they needed as he batted the entire 50 overs in a run-a-ball knock of 148 that had 16 fours and two sixes. Nasiruddin Faruque gave good support with 68. For Rajshahi wicketkeeper Mushfiqur Rahim had put his side on course by sharing 45 for the eighth wicket with Mohammad Sohrawordi. But when Sohrawordi perished for a quick 32 off 25, and Rahim followed an over later for 114, Rajshahi wound up eight runs short
Phase 2 - Round 2
The world's number one allrounder Shakib Al Hasan hasn't been as awe-inspiring in domestic cricket. But against Barisal he was his usual self. Having taken three for 34 to restrict them to 213 for eight, Shakib was also influential in the chase, making 35, but it was Nazmus Sadat's 71 that eased the nerves as Khulna secured a three-wicket victory. The win allowed Khulna to keep their hopes of a top-two finish alive.
Rajshahi powered to 276 for 8 on the back of Shabbir Rahman's 74 and Zunaed Siddique's 60 against Dhaka who floundered against the slow bowlers and were bundled out for 197.
The results in this round meant that three teams - Dhaka, Rajshahi and Khulna were on eight points going into the last round. Barisal were on 10 points, but all four sides were still fighting for a place in the final.
Phase 2 - Round 3
Khulna were the first team to be omitted from the race to reach the final when they were thrashed by Rajshahi at the Dhanmondi Cricket Stadium. Mohammad Mithun's 54 was their only innings of substance, as Khulna crashed to 118. Rajshahi were convincing winners by six wickets, with Siddique making 47.
With 10 points and level with Barisal, Rajshahi's eyes were now on the happenings at Mirpur where Dhaka made a fighting 242. Shamsur Rahman and Shuvagata Hom both scored 54. A loss for Dhaka would have given Rajshahi a berth in the final, but Barisal's usual tenacity with the bat went missing in this match as they lost the plot and went down by 79 runs. As three sides had 10 points, it was then left to the tournament laws to ascertain that by virtue of head-to-head results Dhaka and Barisal were the finalists.
Drama preceded the final with Barisal's prolific opener Nasiruddin Faruque getting suspended for the match for showing dissent and abusing the umpires in the game before. Then it was learned that Tamim Iqbal, who had recovered from hand surgery but has not featured in a competitive match for months, had sought a no-objection certificate from his home division Chittagong to play in the final for Dhaka. In the end though, Chittagong decided against giving the NOC as that would have robbed them of their prized batsman for the four-day games later on.
Barisal opted to bat, but failed to get a decent run-rate going even though they had wickets in hand. With the openers departing inside 15 overs, Asif Ahmed (48) and Shahin Hossain (40) dug deep but it was left to a 19-ball 35 from Ariful Haque to get them past 200. Fast bowler Shahadat Hossain, another Bangladesh player desperate to impress the selectors with the World Cup clock ticking, returned figures of four for 39 to follow up his three for 23 in the previous game. Set 222 to win Dhaka had five of their top six back in the dressing room with the score on 79 at the half-way point. However, Mahmudullah and Elias Sunny kept their cool and dealt mainly in singles and twos, with the occasional boundary thrown in. Mahmudullah fell for 53 but Sunny, who is more renowned as a left-arm spinner, continued batting like a man possessed. With the lights fading, Sunny found the extra cover boundary off three consecutive balls to seal a third one-day version title for Dhaka.
PLAYER OF THE TOURNAMENT - Mohammad Ashraful (Dhaka)
With a hundred, two fifties and a couple of decent cameos, Ashraful was Dhaka's batting mainstay and for a change thrived in that role consistently. He also backed himself with the ball and made breakthroughs when his team needed them. More than anything it was his calmness at the crease that warmed the heart of his admirers. When he is in that frame of mind it is very difficult to dislodge him and majority of his innings were chanceless.
FIND OF THE TOURNAMENT - Fazl-e-Rabbi (Barisal)
Only batsman in the competition to score two hundreds and the only man apart from national team players to make a century. With a stand-and-deliver style that brought out a comparison with Chris Gayle from former Bangladesh captain Khaled Mashud, the left-hander impressed everyone with his aggression and hand-eye coordination. He only took the game seriously in 2005 and had never batted for 50 overs before his epic 148 against Rajshahi. The fact that he is local product of Barisal, where the infrastructure is still in its infancy, and had never received any specialized coaching, speaks a lot about the perseverance and talent of this lad.