By R Kaushik in Mirpur
Pakistan’s 50-run victory sets up a shootout against West Indies on Tuesday for the second semifinal spot from Group 2
Pakistan’s top order hasn’t been in the best health at the ICC World Twenty20 2014, but for the second time in as many matches, it unearthed a hero who held the innings together without getting bogged down.
Last Sunday, it was Umar Akmal who had come to the team’s rescue against Australia, falling tantalisingly short of becoming the first Pakistani batsman to score a T20 International hundred. This Sunday (March 30), at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium, it was the turn of Ahmed Shehzad to surge to the forefront, as he managed what Umar couldn’t.
Shehzad, who held the previous highest Pakistani T20I score of 98 not out against Zimbabwe, went one better on the hottest day of the summer here thus far. The 22-year-old batted through the innings to finish unbeaten on 111 off 62 deliveries with ten fours and five sixes, a gorgeous compilation that wowed even the decidedly partisan crowd. Shehzad’s brilliance enabled Pakistan, batting by choice after Mohammad Hafeez won the toss, to post 190 for 5 as it buried Bangladesh under an avalanche of runs.
Bangladesh’s batting has been fragile and prone to collapses all tournament long, and the task of taking the fight to the most versatile and potent bowling attack of the competition was well beyond it. Tamim Iqbal and Anamul Haque, the openers, were fired out inside the Power Play, Shamsur Rahman’s run of early outs continued, and Mushfiqur Rahim, the captain, was gobbled up by Zulfiqar Babar as Bangladesh hit a roadblock at 47 for 4.
Shakib Al Hasan, returned to his preferred No. 3 position, smashed a couple of fours and sixes in making an attractive, innings-high 38, but it was too little to make any impression on Pakistan, brilliant with the ball if somewhat patchy on the field. All Bangladesh, once again outclassed in all departments, managed in the end was 140 for 7, Pakistan’s 50-run victory setting up a shootout against West Indies for the second semifinal spot from the Super 10’s Group 2.
The spoils were shared around with Umar Gul the most successful, though there was no joy for Sohail Tanvir, the left-arm medium pacer, who was brought in for Bilawal Bhatti. As is their wont, Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi were both among the wickets, setting stall for Tuesday’s final match of the Super 10 phase, which will be the difference between a place in the semis and an early flight home.
Pakistan came into the game knowing that if it won, it wouldn’t necessarily achieve too much from a qualification perspective beyond confidence, but would certainly end Australian interest in the tournament. It’s unlikely that such issues would have taken too much of its time. It hadn’t played a game in a week and needed to get back into combat mode. How well Pakistan did that.
Since conjuring that 98 not out in August 2013, Shehzad hasn’t had the best run in T20I cricket. Six of his subsequent nine innings had ended in single digits, and while there was no immediate threat to his place, he needed runs under the belt for reassurance, as much as anything else.
Where Kamran Akmal began carefully, Shehzad warmed with a whip to long-leg and an exquisite straight drive in the second over, sent down by Al-Amin Hossain, but really took wing in the next over from Mashrafe Mortaza. Mortaza had started well enough by going for just five in his first over – he should have had Kamran bowled but the in-ducker bounced just enough to sail over middle stump – but was taken to the cleaners in the next that produced 18. There were three fours ranging from the delicate as in the drive through covers to the brutal as in the mows over midwicket, the piece-de-resistance coming off the last ball of the over, which was deposited way over long-off.
Shehzad dominated the opening salvo of 43 with Kamran, whose contribution was only 9, as well as subsequent stands of 27 for the second with Hafeez, who courted another failure, and the meatiest association of the innings, 83 off just 50 deliveries for the fourth with Shoaib Malik. Kamran’s dismissal had catalysed a good period for Bangladesh when Abdur Razzak, brought in for Sohag Gazi, and Shakib went through their left-arm spin quickly and tidily. Razzak took 2 for 20 in an unchanged four-over spell while Shakib finished with 1 for 21 from his four. These two apart, all the other bowlers were treated with disdain, Mortaza suffering the most while leaking 63 in his four and Ziaur Rahman’s only over battered for 22, Shehzad making all but one of those runs.
The artificial pressure that might have otherwise been generated at 71 for 3 early in the tenth over was blown away by the onslaught on Ziaur, by which time it was obvious that only Shehzad could get himself out. He tried – getting outside off on a fair few occasions and trying unsuccessfully to paddle the ball to fine-leg, the ball only narrowly missing the off stump – but when he played conventionally, he made for a striking picture. Some of his driving was out of the top drawer and had a touch of Virat Kohli to it; in the experienced Mailk, he found a steadying hand as Pakistan raced into the ascendancy.
Shehzad pushed Shakib to deep cover off his 58th delivery to become only the 12th T20I centurion, whipping his helmet off to acknowledge his team-mates and a silent stadium before sinking into Afridi’s arms. Allowing the young man to soak in the moment, Afridi then blasted 22 in just 9 deliveries with Bangladesh continuing to field and catch poorly. Pakistan piled up 115 in the last ten overs; it took until the 18th over for Bangladesh to make as many, by which time it had already lost six wickets. That comparison aptly illustrated the gulf between the two sides.