DHAKA: Pakistan claimed the Asia Cup with a thrilling two-run victory over a dogged Bangladesh yesterday, breaking the hearts of home supporters who saw their unfancied side take the game to the wire.
The visitors - tournament winners in 2000 - held Bangladesh to 234-8, agonisingly short of Pakistan’s 236-9 despite impressive half-centuries from Shakib Al Hasan (68) and opener Tamim Iqbal (60).
Pakistan paceman Aizaz Cheema starred with the ball, grabbing three wickets, while fast bowler Umar Gul and off-spinner Saeed Ajmal each took two to strangle Bangladesh’s run-chase.
The hosts, appearing in their first Asia Cup final, looked well placed to win the day-night match, watched by Bangladesh President Zillur Rahman and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, but faltered in the final over.
Needing nine runs to win with three wickets in hand they could manage only six, as Cheema held his nerve to see out the game.
Cheered by a capacity crowd, Bangladesh started their innings strongly, reaching 68 for the opening wicket through Tamim and Mohammad Nazimuddin (16), before Pakistan struck with three wickets in the space of 13 runs.
Tamim, who was initially dropped from the squad but later added as a 15th member, hit eight fours in his fourth successive half-century before being caught by Younis in the covers off Gul.
Shakib kept alive Bangladesh’s hopes with an 89-run stand for the fourth wicket with Nasir Hossain (28), but his dismissal in the 44th over put the hosts under pressure.
Bangladesh had earlier restricted Pakistan’s free-scoring batsmen with tight bowling and a solid fielding performance.
Left-arm spinners Shakib and Abdur Razzak and paceman Mashrafe Mortaza bagged two wickets apiece for Bangladesh, with Sarfraz Ahmed leading Pakistan’s innings with an unbeaten 46.
Having upset the odds to beat World Cup winners India and runners-up Sri Lanka in league matches, Bangladesh looked like they could repeat the trick after capturing three wickets in the opening 15 overs to have Pakistan at 55-3.
Mortaza struck in his third over when he had opener Nasir Jamshed (nine) caught by Mohammad Mahmudullah in the covers before seamer Nazmul Hossain trapped Younis Khan leg-before for one.
Bangladesh’s fielders expertly supported their bowlers with Nasir running the tourist’s skipper Misbah-ul-Haq out with a direct-hit before Nazmul held a good catch at mid-on to account for Mohammad Hafeez (40).
Nasir had a hand in one more dismissal when he dived forward at long-off to take a superb catch to remove Shahid Afridi after the batsman had hit one six and four boundaries in a brisk 22-ball 32.
The hosts did not allow Pakistan to build a big partnership, the highest stand of the innings being 59 for the fifth wicket between Umar Akmal (30) and Hammad Azam (30).
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s nine-wicket loss to South Africa in the second Test was a closer match than the result suggests and the hosts’ captain Ross Taylor believes his team are not far away from being competitive in the third Test in Wellington.
South Africa took a 1-0 lead in the series on the back of the victory at Seddon Park in Hamilton, which was cemented through superb fast bowling from their pace trio of Vernon Philander, who took 10 wickets, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
“The score reflected that we got pretty much thrashed ... but it was actually a lot closer than people give it credit for,” Taylor told reporters on Thursday.
“We did have our moments in that game and if a couple of bounces of the ball go our way then it could have been a different story.
“We know that we’re not far away from competing with this side. We’ve been on top in a few situations we just haven’t been able to ram it home.”