By our correspondent
Eden Gardens: Following four successive defeats Pakistan eventually showed some sting and pulled off a convincing seven-wicket win against Bangladesh to keep their minor hopes of making it to semis alive in the ICC World Cup.
Shaheen Shah Afridi, who became the fastest quick bowler to each 100 ODI wickets folded Bangladesh for 204.
Fakhar Zaman, freshly recalled to the side, then turned in his best showing in months, a vintage 74-ball 81 that set Pakistan up for a win that gave both their confidence and net run-rate a shot in the arm.
It felt like a classic Pakistan performance right from the outset, first-over Afridi wicket and all. He trapped Tanzid Hasan off the fifth ball to push up to 100 wickets and, taking advantage of a moving ball, got his second in his next over, getting Najmul Hossain Shanto caught at square leg. Haris Rauf made it three, hitting back after being spanked for three boundaries in his first over, drawing an edge from Mushfiqur Rahim that sent him on his way.
Bangladesh’s best passage of play followed, a 79-run partnership between Litton Das and Mahmudullah that reset the innings and undid the early damage somewhat. It helped that Pakistan’s premier legspinner Usama Mir had another off day, unable to land his lengths consistently. He found himself regularly punished, particularly by Mahmudullah, who looked by far the most accomplished batter.
The turning point came when Litton fell with the softest of dismissals against a harmless delivery from Iftikhar Ahmed, a long hop which the batter wafted up to short midwicket. Litton stood transfixed in dismay for nearly half a minute at the crease, almost as if his body would not permit him to walk off.
Bangladesh rebuilt, but the momentum had been sapped right out of the innings. Shakib Al Hasan took his time to get going, and once Afridi came back, he cleaned Mahmudullah up with an unplayable reverse-swinging delivery from around the wicket. With reverse swing coming into play in a big way for the final 15 overs, Bangladesh’s lower-order batters found themselves at a further disadvantage, and Pakistan began to apply the squeeze as Babar Azam rotated his bowlers with rare judiciousness.
Only when Shakib belatedly decided to take on the spinners did Bangladesh look like showing any intent. Iftikhar was slapped for three boundaries and Mehidy Hasan deposited Usama for a six over cow corner, so Babar went back to Rauf’s pace, and he struck in his first over, getting rid of Shakib. It then took Mohammad Wasim just seven balls to clean up the tail, Mehidy, Taskin Ahmed and Mustafizur Rahman finding their stumps knocked back as they folded for 204.
A sedate first three overs saw Pakistan’s openers play themselves in, but Fakhar in particular was loosening his arms. After three runs in 11 balls, he thumped Taskin for a huge six over square leg that got him going. He would later say that he didn’t mind how the pitch played because he knew he could hit sixes anywhere, a point he demonstrated through his innings as sixes regularly punctuated dot deliveries. Within the powerplay, he and Abdullah Shafique brought up the half-century partnership, and with Shafique joining in the run fest, the stand raced towards three figures.
Mustafizur was a particular favourite recipient of Shafique’s ire, as he was pummelled for three successive boundaries in the 12th over before Fakhar slapped Mehidy for another six. His fifth of the innings brought up his half-century, a slap off Taskin back over the bowler’s head bringing up the landmark, while Shafique eased to his own half-century in the same over. Shafique also played perhaps the shot of the day, a smear over cow corner off Taskin that flew all the way, and at that time, Pakistan looked like they were racing towards a ten-wicket win.
Mehidy did his bit to ensure the ignominy wasn’t quite as severe, taking three wickets (the only ones Pakistan lost) to stem the flow. Shafique fell first, sweeping across the line, while Babar, who never really got going, holed out to long-on before he got into double-figures. And while Fakhar had hit two sixes off Mehidy, he was brave enough to keep pitching it up, using a variation in pace to get him to mistime one to the midwicket boundary. Fakhar had fallen for 81 even though he had looked nailed-on for a hundred,
It wouldn’t matter too much in the end as a flurry of boundaries from Mohammad Rizwan and Iftikhar saw Pakistan coast through with more than 17 overs to spare. It ended a pall of gloom that had settled over the side over the last fortnight, and while Bangladesh are officially out, Pakistan, have shown the first signs of rising from a slumber.
By our correspondent