Forced to release all their big guns to Bangladesh team duty round seven of the NCL was the ultimate test of Khulna's mettle. The leaders came up against an inspired Chittagong side playing their best cricket of the competition and had to be content with an away draw. Rajshahi were the beneficiaries of Khulna's failure to get a result as they thumped slumping Barisal to join Khulna at the top on 80 points. Dhaka lost their third position to Chittagong when they barely managed to hang in for a draw against Sylhet.
Chittagong opted to bat against Khulna at the Bir Shrestha Shahid Ruhul Amin Stadium and Nafees Iqbal raced to 40 off 45 balls in an opening stand of 67 with Gazi Salahuddin who went on to score 94. Mahbubul Karim contributed 61off his free-flowing bat and at 215 for 2, Chittagong were cruising. However, Nazimuddin's wicket at that point slowed things down before a collapse saw them lose five wickets for 69 runs and were later all out for 359 with Ehsanul Haque, Chittagong's captain, the last man to be dismissed for 78, a spirited performance by a second-string attack in the absence of Mashrafe Mortaza, Syed Rasel, Shakib Al Hasan and Abdur Razzak. In reply, Khulna's opener Nazmus Sadat (91) started well but with little support around him, Khulna crashed to 282 allout. Off-spinner Yasin Arafat was the pick of the bowlers and grabbed four wickets for 62 runs. Chittagong's second innings revolved around Nazimuddin who reminded one and all why he is rated so highly. Displaying scant regard for Khulna bowlers on a tricky pitch with wickets tumbling around him he hit six sixes and 11 fours to remain unbeaten on 121 off 183 deliveries as Chittagong declared their second innings on 229 for 9 thus leaving Khulna with two sessions in which to get 307. At full strength they might have attempted the chase, but Khulna played for the draw and were 188 for 5 at close.
The toss was the only thing that went Barisal's way as Rajshahi paceman Alamgir Kabir (5 for 52) tore through their batting lineup at the Shahid Chandu Stadium. Barisal were bundled out for only 182 with Kabir's in-swingers wreaking havoc in the middle. However, Rajshahi's reply was also unimpressive and only Naeem Islam's 68 enabled them to eke out a 22-run lead. Another strong bowling performance by Rajshahi, however, restricted Barisal to 169 in their second-innings with Shahriar Nafees, top-scoring with an unbeaten 65, watching helplessly as Mohammad Shahzada sent back Imran Ahmed, Roqibul Hasan and Toriqul Islam before left-arm spinner Saqlain Sajib (4 for 29) cleaned up the rest. A target of 148 proved too little in the end as Rajshahi, after racing to 98 for 1 at close of play on the third day, claimed maximum points with much ease.
At Fatullah, Dhaka pacers had reduced Sylhet to 206 for 7 after Rajin Saleh had opted to bat first. However, Golam Mabud (75*) played the rescue act and with an 83-run eighth-wicket partnership with Enamul Haque (38) took his side to a respectable score. After being dismissed for 312, Sylhet had Dhaka reeling at 96 for 5 but Mosharraf Hossain (67*) propelled his side to 273. Sylhet's second innings revolved around the opener Imtiaz Hossain who hit 148 and shared a 163-run third-wicket partnership with Saleh (71) to shut Dhaka out of the match. Presented with a target of 347 in just over two hours, Dhaka did try to get close to it but at 149 for 7, after a 20-ball 37 by Al Shahriar and Mahmudullah Riyad's run-a-ball 60, Dhaka realised it wasn't to be as umpires called off play.
Rajshahi seemingly had done enough to ensure a seventh straight win when they reached 105 for 2 after bowling out Barisal for 188 at Bogra. However, against all odds, Barisal got frequent breakthroughs and Rajshahi's last eight batsmen fell for just 65 runs to hand Barisal an 18-run victory.
Chittagong has this strong liking for the shorter version of the game but Khulna found them on an off-day at Chittagong. Nazimuddin's 30-ball 40 briefly allowed the home team to hope for a big total incisive spells from Manjurul Islam (3 for 44), Fariduddin (2 for 26) and Nazmus Sadat (3 for 35) restricted them to 188. Sadat made it his match by blazing an unbeaten 92 and opening partner Mostafizur Rahman cracked 74 as Khulna won by 9 wickets with 15 overs to spare.
Dhaka laboured to 225 after Mehrab Hossain and Nadif Chowdhury both scored 51 against Sylhet at Fatullah. Sylhet, in reply, could only manage 171 as Mohammad Sharif grabbed a five-wicket haul to give Dhaka a 51-run victory, their fourth in the tournament.
Player of the week - Nazmus Sadat
He might appear frail but looks can be deceiving as Sadat's opponents are finding out. Free-flowing with the bat as well as being innovative, Sadat is starting to make his presence felt in the NCL. His 91 in the first innings at Chittagong kept Khulna in the match they went on to draw. In the one-day match, he did more than his captain expected from him with his part-time medium-pace by taking three wickets and then scoring an unbeaten 91 to finish as the star of an assertive victory.
National Cricket League
National Cricket League one-day
Rabeed Imam is editor of TigerCricket.com