Bangladesh suffered a painful 55-run defeat against Pakistan in their opening Super Ten match at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata yesterday. It's a flat statement that deserves a better expression. The Tigers lost to the pyrotechnics of one Shahid Afrid, who rediscovered his big-hitting exploits at a time when many thought he is no longer the kind of devastating force he has been over the years.
His 19-ball 49, which contained four sixes and as many fours, was a special treat for the boisterous Eden crowd and a nightmare for a couple of thousand loyal Tigers fans in the mix. Like it or not, the explosive innings of the Pakistan batsman killed what was billed to be a good contest on a ground where Bangladesh were playing for the first time in 26 years.
Bangladesh do have very good batsman like Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Sabbir Rahman, Mushfiqur Rahim, Shakib Al Hasan, Mahmudullah Riyad. Actually, there are many. But unfortunately Bangladesh still does not have the kind of batsman like Afridi, someone who on their day blows away anything and everything that comes in the way.
His innings made sure Pakistan posted a massive 201 for five, their second-best T20I score against Bangladesh. The wicket was an absolute belter and it was no surprise when Afridi won the toss and decided to bat. And Bangladesh, without their injured young pace bowler Mustafizur Rahman who was ruled out at the last moment on fitness grounds, lost the plot even before a ball was bowled.
Taskin Ahmed and Al-Amin Hossain are good bowlers. But they are not the kind of bowlers capable of delivering on a wicket where if you slightly err, you will be hit for four. Not only that, a good-length delivery can also turn into a boundary. So, it was no surprise when the Pakistan opening pair of Sharjeel Khan and Ahmed Shehzad produced 26 runs off 14 deliveries before Sharjeel was bowled by left-arm spinner Afrafat Sunny.
Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez then added 95 runs for the second wicket before Shehzad was out for a 39-ball 54. But by the time he was out, it laid the foundation for Afridi to launch his attack. The hard-hitting batsman started his assault against his Bangladesh counterpart Mashrafe with two successive boundaries followed by a massive six over square leg. He then muscled Al-Amin over long, hit Shakib for a six and a four before hammering Taskin for two successive boundaries. He was within touching distance of scoring first fifty since his last in 2012 against Sri Lanka but was caught in the deep in the final over. But by that time Pakistan had put up a total that was more than enough for their first win against Bangladesh after five straight defeats in the shorter formats. It was a day on which nothing went right for the Tigers, starting from the toss that Mashrafe lost for a sixth straight time. The only highlight during Bangladesh's fielding was a stupendous catch at mid-wicket by Soumya. He reached high and plucked the ball out of thin air but as the momentum took him out of the boundary rope, he lobbed the ball inside and grabbed it again just on the edge.
It was an outstanding catch but it had little or no bearing on his confidence with the bat. The left-handed opener was out for a second ball duck, he was late in closing the face of the bat against Mohammad Amir and was clean bowled. Tamim started cautiously and Sabbir looked good at the other end. But both the in-form batsmen perished while chasing that ever-increasing run-rate.
Mahmudullah Riyad tried too many things and it did not work, Mushfiqur Rahim stayed on the wicket for a while and Shakib Al Hasan stayed till the end for an unbeaten 40-ball 50. He got plenty of cheers from the Eden crowd, who actually consider him a hometown boy for his association with IPL franchise Kolkata Knight Riders.
The defeat against Pakistan is a blow for Bangladesh going into their next match against Australia at the Chinnaswami stadium in Bangalore on March 21. It was also heart-breaking for the strong contingent of Bangladesh fans, who travelled to Kolkata in big numbers anticipating a victory. It was disappointing, but when you are on the road, you will have to take it in your stride for a better tomorrow. It was just a game and the better team on the ground won.
SCORES IN BRIEF
PAKISTAN: 201 for 5 in 20 overs (Shehzad 52, Hafeez 64, Afridi 49; Taskin 2-32, Sunny 2-34, Sabbir 1-11)
BANGLADESH: 146 for 6 in 20 overs (Tamim 24, Sabbir 25, Shakib 50 not out; Amir 2-27, Afridi 2-27)
Result: Pakistan won by 55 runs.
Player-of-the-match: Shahid Afridi