PALLEKELE: There were no unexpected slip-ups from the tournament's most unpredictable side as Pakistan stormed into the Super Eights following a dominant display against Bangladesh, on Tuesday.
Set a target of 176 to win the match and 140 to qualify for the next stage at the expense of their less illustrious sub-continental cousins, Pakistan brought a knife down on Bangladesh's hopes, which would have soared after their star Shakib Al Hasan's scorching 84 (54b, 11x4, 2x6) had taken them to a score that seemed competitive even after the 36-run deduction accounting for Net Run Rates.
But the reprieved Imran Nazir (72, 36b) had different ideas. The classy opener smashed nine fours and three sixes after he was dropped early in his knock, and with skipper Mohammad Hafeez (45) added 124 in 13.3 overs in a blistering partnership at the top of the innings. The alliance set up Pakistan's eight-wicket win, allowing them to top Group 'D' and placing them with India, Australia and South Africa in a mouth-watering battle for two semifinal berths.
Hafeez launched Pakistan's highest successful Twenty20 International chase with two fours off Mashrafe Mortaza and calamity struck for Bangladesh in the next over when Nazir was dropped at mid on by Abul Hasan off Shafiul Islam. Carnage followed. 20 came off Shafiul's next over and 15 off Mortaza's fifth of the innings, as Pakistan raced to 50.
Nazir reached his half-century in 25 balls as wickets continued to elude Bangladesh. Pakistan reached 100 in the 11th over and the first breakthrough came in the 14th over when Nazir was out caught at long off against Abul Hasan. In the same over, Hafeez nicked one behind to depart for 45. Nasir Jamshed walked in and clubbed a four and six off Hasan to take Pakistan over the 140-run red line in the 16th over. Jamshed wasn't finished. His 14-ball 29 allowed Pakistan to romp home with 8 balls to spare.
Shakib, the lone star
Earlier, Bangladesh elected to bat knowing that they needed not only to beat Pakistan but do so by a margin of at least 36 runs. Shakib's dashing knock gave them a fighting chance of doing that, the 175-6 total setting Pakistan a Super Eights qualifying target of 139, a requirement neither here nor there.
Bangladesh began in right earnest with openers Mohammad Ashraful and Tamim Iqbal (24), who smashed 17 runs in Umar Gul's first over, which included five wides. After Ashraful was out, Tamim went after Hafeez with successive boundaries and with Shakib at the other end preying on some indiscriminate short-pitch bowling, runs flowed.
A questionable call and a slip caused Tamim's run-out, but Shakib made light of the loss to smack fours off Saeed Ajmal when the dangerous offie was introduced in the tenth over, although one boundary did arrive off the edge.
Pakistan's failings in the field soon surfaced. Sohail Tanvir dropped the mother of sitters from Mushfiqur Rahim off medium pacer Yasir Arafat's first ball. In the same over Shakib reached his fifty in 33 balls with a pulled six and on the last ball of Arafat's opener, Shahid Afridi dove full length to his left from mid off but was unable to hang on to Shakib's shot.
Shakib and Mushfiqur (25) added 68 in 8.5 overs for the third wicket and Bangladesh were going steady at 127-2 in 14 overs before two quick wickets - of Mushfiqur and Mahmudullah - pegged them back. Kamran Akmal could have made it another wicket when he failed to take a sharp catch of Nasir Hossain off Afridi. Shakib, meanwhile, attacked Gul again when the bowler returned, picking him for three fours as the innings regained momentum.
The Bangladesh batsman became his country's highest Twenty20 International score when he paddled Ajmal to the fence in the 19th over. Posibilities of a century appeared transiently, but Shakib was out in the final over for 84, caught at the boundary trying to clear long off off a full toss. By then his job was done and 33 taken from the last three overs.