Riders surge to top spot
Rangpur Riders. A team that signed up the least-wanted icon player; a team that is led by a cricketer who is past his golden years; a team dominated by cricketers who were recently left out from the Bangladesh national team, is today on top of the Bangladesh Premier League.
Skipper Naeem Islam is probably going through one of his most enjoyable phases in recent times, while Soumya Sarkar must be desperate to get back into form and help contribute to his team's success.
Not only have they secured the maximum number of points, following their seven-wicket win over the Khulna Titans in Chittagong yesterday, they also have a game in hand.
With a flawless record in Chittagong which saw them secure three wins, they have been the most successful team in the port city and that has turned around their campaign completely.
The Chittagong Vikings, who beat the Barisal Bulls by 78 runs in the last game of the league in Chittagong yesterday thanks to blistering half-centuries from Dwayne Smith and Shoaib Malik, have also won three games in the port city and renewed their hopes of making it to the next round. They will also be boosted by the fact that Chris Gayle will be available to them from the next round.
Barisal, on the other hand, failed to win in Chittagong. The Khulna Titans won two, while the Dhaka Dynamites, the Rajshahi Kings and the Comilla Victorians won one each.
It just goes to show how unpredictable T20 cricket is. Except for Afghanistan's Mohammad Shahzad, the Rangpur Riders do not have a single player who regularly represents a national cricket team and yet they have just lost once in their last six outings.
The reason behind that is that their batsmen have clicked. Looking at the balance of the team it was obvious that batting was going to be their Achilles heel. However, with Shahzad, Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Mithun in good touch and former national bowlers Shohag Gazi, Arafat Sunny and Rubel Hossain, bowling well, everything seems to be going to plan.
Their players were once again on top against the in-form Titans yesterday. Arafat Sunny, Afridi and Rubel bowled brilliantly and took two wickets each to restrict the Titans for just 125 at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium.
Sunny, who revamped his bowling action, seems to have hit form in the BPL and finished with miserly figures of two for 16. He removed both openers, Andrew Fletcher and Abdul Majid, by the fifth over and laid the foundation for the rest of the bowlers.
Afridi got the key wicket of Mahmudullah Riyad in the eighth over before Rubel Hossain removed both Riki Wessels and Taibur Rahman in the 17th over. After 17 overs, they were struggling at 96 for five. Two sixes from Ariful Haque in the last over produced 16 runs and that helped the Titans post 125 and gave them some hope.
While it did take the Riders 19 overs to overcome the total, and that's something that they probably need to work on ahead of the next game, they never seemed in trouble.
In fact, it seemed as though the batsmen wanted to take their time and reach their target without any worries. Shahzad scored a 38-ball 37 while Mithun hit 49 off 41 balls. Afridi, who came in at number four hit one six and two fours during his 20-ball 26 before getting bowled by Howell.
Eventually, they reached home with seven wickets and six balls in hand. Afridi, who scalped two wickets and also hit 26 runs was adjudged the player of the match.