Rajshahi's winning run was finally halted in the third round of the 9th National Cricket League (NCL) largely due to the weather at Chittagong. However, their nearest rivals Khulna could not turn that into their advantage as rain also robbed them of a day's play against Sylhet and with it the chance of forcing a result.
Table-toppers Rajshahi let themselves down on the opening day of their first away game on a sluggish pitch at the Bir Shrestha Ruhul Amin Stadium. Electing to bat first, Rajshahi's opening duo of Junaid Siddique and Jahurul Islam eased to 68 in 25 overs with no discomfort against Tareq Aziz and Aftab Ahmed, handed the new ball as Chittagong banked on its spinners to do the job at home. Rajshahi's slow scoring-rate, however, hurt the batting side more as wickets fell at regular intervals. Siddique (78 off 210) continued to graft in an uncharacteristically dour fashion but when he spooned a tame return catch to Aziz with his side on 164 for 5, the wheels suddenly came off their innings. Showing excellent control over his reverse swing, Aziz inspired a batting collapse that saw Rajshahi lose four wickets in just over four overs. He then picked up his fifth wicket of the innings to wrap up Rajshahi's first-innings for a modest 192. Chittagong, failing to take a cue from a poor Rajshahi performance, replied in an even more listless manner. Mohammad Shahzada usually enjoys bowling on pitches with a bit of moisture and with this pitch under covers for a whole day, the stage was set for the Rajshahi paceman. He tore into Chittagong's batting line-up and accounted for Nafees Iqbal, Nazimuddin and Aftab for a combined score of 12. Farhad Reza (3 for 20) joined in the fun and Chittagong were reduced to 60 for 8 before No. 10 Aziz stroked an unbeaten 35 to help his team reach 115. Rajshahi declared their second-innings on 232 for five, with an overall lead of 309, with Reza making a run-a-ball unbeaten 69 and sharing an unbroken sixth-wicket partnership of 106 with Mushfiqur Rahman (50*). Chittagong didn't falter like the first innings despite Shahzada picking up Nafees in the first over and reached 115 for 3 when both captains decided to accept a draw.
Imrul Kayash's maiden first-class hundred and Shakib Al Hasan's third fifty in as many matches took Khulna to 274 after the first day of their match against Sylhet at Fatullah got washed out. Kayes and Shakib both fell to the Enamul Haque jnr, the left-arm spinner, who claimed 5 for 65 while preventing Khulna from reaching an imposing total. Sylhet looked on course with Rajin Saleh, Mushfiqur Rahim and Alok Kapali scoring half-centuries on the third day after Mashrafe Mortaza had removed the openers cheaply. From a promising 200 for 3, Sylhet crashed to 232 all out as four of the last six batsmen were dismissed without scoring as Syed Rasel and Ziaur Rahman took four wickets each. Rezaul Haque inflicted early damage as Khulna lost four wickets with only 43 on the board, but Habibul Bashar (73) played his more fluent innings in recent times to take his side to 174 as Sylhet decided against starting the second innings with not much time left in the match.
Dhaka's tussle with Barisal turned out to be the match of the round. Mohammad Ashraful opted to bat first at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium in overcast conditions and saw his side dismissed for 157 as left-arm medium-pacer Sajidul Islam (4 for 40) moved the ball sideways with great precision. Dhaka's bowling attack lacked genuine firepower as Shahriar Nafees and Hannan Sarkar, the Barisal openers, progressed slowly to 63 in just under 35 overs, determined not to give Dhaka any early impetus. Sarkar's laborious 85 took 273 balls as Barisal racked up 304 in 148 overs. Sensing a kill after picking up three wickets for 64, Barisal received a bonus when Ashraful's wild swing off Talha Jubair resulted in a disturbed set of stumps. A sixth-wicket 106-run partnership between Shamsur Rahman (66) and Mahmudullah (39) stretched the Dhaka innings to 257 and with 111 runs to get from just over 40 overs, Barisal were the firm favourites. Mahbubul Alam and Mohammad Sharif, however, had different ideas as they decimated the batting order with swing and the first six wickets went down for 38 inside 16 overs. Arafat Salahuddin and Shahin Hossain halted the slide with a 63-run partnership before left-arm spinner Mosharraf Hossain achieved a double breakthrough in the 35th over. Sharif sent back Jubair in the next over and at 102 for 9, the match was evenly poised. Feeling that the batsmen would walk off if offered the light with a fast-bowler operating, the off-spinner bowled the last two deliveries of that over. However, neither side were able to progress from that point onwards as the umpires called off the match due to bad light.
For the second game running, Siddique (68) and Islam (89) shared a century opening partnership and Rajshahi followed their 295 in the previous match with 290 for 5 against Chittagong . It needed a typical cameo from Aftab (65 off 49) to keep Chittagong in the game as he raced to his half-century off only 27 deliveries. Rahman, however, got rid of Aftab and then Dhiman Ghosh for 66 as the wicketkeeper threatened to take the match away. Dhiman's dismissal left Chittagong needing 34 off 29 deliveries with four wickets in hand. However, they fell seven short of the target as Rajshahi celebrated their third successive win.
The Fatullah crowd were treated to another Kayash special as a fluent 121 allowed Khulna to finish on 259 for 9. In reply, Sylhet slumped to 116 for 8 by the 35th over as Rahim contributed a quickfire 55. Tapash Baishya's fighting 68 at No. 10 only delayed the inevitable as Sylhet could only manage 203 for 9.
Dhaka restricted Barisal to 151 for 9 at Mirpur but then made a rash of an easy run-chase as they went past the target with only three wickets left and three overs to spare.
Player of the week Imrul Kayash
Little was known about Kaysh before this season apart from the fact that he was a doughty opener with ambition. In a Khulna side filled with stars - Bashar, Tushar Imran and Shakib to name a few - he has managed to hold his own. His success so far has come through the simple ploy of offering a straight bat and his footwork against the spinners has been a treat to watch. After making 127 in the first innings of the four-day match and 121 in the one-day match against Sylhet, Kayash is well on track to win a bet against himself - scoring five hundreds in NCL this year and push for a trip to New Zealand.
National Cricket League
Note: Points include bonus points for batting and bowling and points for the first-innings lead in the drawn game
National Cricket League one-day
Rabeed Imam is editor of TigerCricket.com