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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Unimoni Asia Cup-2018: No India-Pakistan Final, It’s Vs Bangladesh!


In the last Super Four match of the Unimoni Asia Cup-2018 played in Abu Dhabi tonight Bangladesh played like tigers overcoming a spirited-in-splits Pakistan by 37 runs. It was a virtual semi-final with the winner set to meet India in the Final to be played in Dubai on Friday, 28th September, 2018. Seemingly Pakistan could never recover psychologically from the dumps inflicted by arch-rivals India, not once but two times. Their batting was lackadaisical and painfully slow this time too. More importantly for millions of fans all over the globe, a possible third encounter between India and Pakistan in the tournament was snuffed out. 
  
Bangladesh won the toss and elected to bat first. After a shaky start they finally managed to put up a competitive 240-run target for Pakistan thanks to a glorious but unlucky innings of 99 by Musfiqur Rahim and a dashing 60 by Mohammad Mithun. Pakistan bowled them out in 48.5 overs. In reply Pakistan also tottered at the start losing three wickets quickly. Then Shoaib Malik and Imamul Haq steadied the innings. Malik was dismissed by a brilliant one-handed catch by Mashrafe off Rubel ending that partnership and Pakistan was reduced to 87 for 4 wickets. Very soon they were 95 for 5, and when it seemed to be a point of no return Pakistan staged a fighting comeback thanks to a solid partnership between the lone man standing Imam and Asif. Although Bangladesh catching was brilliant throughout Asif’s dropped catch by the wicket keeper could have proved to be a turning point, but a short while after Asif was consumed by Mehidy Hasan and the match was in the balance again with the asking rate going above 7 per over. Bangladesh sealed the match and almost earned a berth in the Final against India by capturing the prized scalp of Imamul Haq (83) at 167 for 7. Bangladesh bowlers, both pacers and spinners, delivered an intense performance and suffocated Pakistan batsmen effectively. Pacer Mustafizur Rahman took four Pak wickets. Finally it was all over for Pakistan ending a sorry tale at 202 for 9 in 50 overs.  

Last night India, as habituated to it, experimented with fire (read Afghanistan) again, and nearly lost the match. Realistically speaking, it’s no use blaming only the team management and coach. You can call it the experimental mindset. Even legendary or famous ex-cricketers or experts and prominent sports journalists ask for ‘experiments’ whenever possible and constantly push for their favourite cricketers for a ‘look-in’ in the national squad. In most of such experiments India suffer defeats or near escapes from defeats. Irrespective of whether a match is inconsequential or not a loss is a loss and it never helps a team in future assignments. India rested five top players, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni came out for the toss giving his fans ecstatic moments. Perhaps it was well thought out plan to make Dhoni stand-in captain for an already stand-in captain and thus giving him the 200th opportunity to lead India in an ODI. 

In the absence of three Indian strike-bowlers Afghanistan had it relatively easy and raced to 252 in 50 overs opting to bat first. Opener Mohammad Shahzad hit his fifth ton in a brilliant innings of flamboyance and belligerence—a century that can match the highest professional standard of international cricket. On the slow UAE surfaces chasing a 250+ total has always been tricky, and India without the high-scoring openers was in a spot of bother. However, Lokesh Rahul and Ambati Rayadu had mounted a 100+ run partnership, and just when India seemed to be cruising the middle order collapsed, of course, with at least two doubtful umpiring decisions. Unfortunately India had no DRS review left after Rahul, surely playing only this match, wasted one in his clear out decision. The match went down to the wire, and in the last over India needed 7 runs with 9 wickets gone. Jadeja almost made sure with just a run needed off the last two balls, but he lofted the penultimate ball to get caught at midwicket and the thriller ended in a tie making Afghanistan burst into a tizzy of excitement and joy.

Letting the syndrome of experiment rest for the moment we must say that Afghanistan played valiantly in the tournament and really deserved more. They topped Group B at the league stage beating both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka convincingly, and in Super Four they lost narrowly to Bangladesh and Pakistan getting knocked out in the process. And Afghanistan tied India in an inconsequential but an unforgettable match, unforgettable particularly for them. Afghanistan is sure to create a commotion in the 2019 World Cup.

Now, all set for the Friday Final at Dubai International cricket stadium. Hope India do not resort to experiment again!
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