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Team Pakistan breathes a sigh of relief

Sohaib, Irfan architects of three-wicket win against Bangladesh,
ending six-match losing streak

SYDNEY, February 9, 2015: Is this one little win so elusive in recent weeks that would see Team Pakistan reversing the tide of four successive losses in New Zealand, make it six on the trot if the previous rubber between the two sides is added to the count?

Though Team Pakistan didn’t go anywhere near the top in its celebration, actually keeping the ‘Mubarik ho’ studiedly in low decibel – no high-fives, no backslapping, only a loud sigh of relief audible all around. Yet the pall of gloom around the dressing room seemed to have evaporated.

What if it was only Bangladesh? What if they only managed to scrape home by just three wickets, with only 11 deliveries to spare? A victory is a victory, and it eggs you on to string together a few more.

Misbah, always the realist with his feet firmly rooted to the ground, shrugged it off: “It was only a practice game”.

That is stating the obvious, but even so there were many positives for Pakistan. For one, the unsettled bowling attack not losing its nerve to the onslaught of set batsmen, and, two, Sohaib Maqsood rising to the occasion definitely fall in that realm.

Bowling first on a wicket with a tinge of green, Sohail Khan and Mohammad Irfan made the ball talk, winkling out two wickets for virtually nothing. But then two of Bangladesh’s best, Tamim Iqbal (81) and Mahmudullah (83), stemmed the rot in a 168 run stand that took the total to 184 at the cusp of the 40th over, the Pakistani bowlers still retrieved the situation remarkably well.

While Sohail Khan was taken off the field following a little cramp in his right calf (nothing threatening enough there though to raise an alarm – only a precautionary measure for a team that has had a lot of strife owing to injuries in recent times), Yasir Shah’s double strike in one over accounting for Tamim and Mushfiqur Rahim following Ahmed Shehzad’s brilliant run-out of Mahmudullah dented Bangladesh.

Wickets had fallen in a bunch, and the trend sustained.

Wahab Riaz had Soumya Sarkar caught behind by Umar Akmal, as Irfan mopped up the tail for a pretty decent return of five for 52. Quite remarkably, Pakistan’s attack had grabbed the last seven wickets for only 56 runs to bowl Bangladesh out for under 250 when they seemed set to sail to 270.

Depleted owing to injury to Mohammad Hafeez, ruled out of the event with a left-calf injury and since replaced by Nasir Jamshed, Sarfraz Ahmed opened with Ahmed Shehzad but both fell early. Younis Khan (25) got a start, but unlike his wont, couldn’t turn it into a big one.

Instead Sohaib Maqsood grabbed the opportunity, his mature knock of unconquered 93 (90 deliveries, nine sixes two fours) took Pakistan past the line. Along the way he partnered Haris Sohail and Umar Akmal, both of whom got out for an identical 39 when on top of things – for 51 and 63 respectively. Shahid Afridi’s little cameo, 24 off 22 deliveries, took the green shirts close to the finish, without actually finishing it.

This is what reflects the true value of Sohaib’s contribution: he not just finished it with a flourish – with a majestic boundary through the extra cover, he kept his head when all around him were losing theirs.

In his post-match press conference, he was entitled to the comment: "I am really happy because we won, and with my own contribution… This will give us confidence ahead of the main event.”

Behind the Scenes with Team Pakistan

Waqar Younis [last words in his little pep talk, post the team’s tactical briefing]:

“You are superior to Bangladesh. Some of them may be good individually, but they don’t know how to win. It’s your day.”

Post-match, Waqar, so obviously relieved, talking privately to chief selector Moin Khan and this scribe in jest spoke a line in chaste Punjabi idiom that would better be left unquoted here. Imagine what he would have said!

Manager Naveed Akram Cheema [Speaking to the boys on the bus while returning to the hotel]:

“I would commend the team effort. It’s not that individual performances don’t count; they do, and immensely. But it is the spirit of the Pakistan team when in a spot of bother that stood out today.”

(The writer is General Manager, Media, Pakistan Cricket Board, on assignment with Team Pakistan as Media Manager).