Rajshahi Kings booked a place in the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) final against the Dhaka Dynamites by battling to a hard-fought seven-wicket win over Khulna Titans in the second qualifier at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur last night.
Chasing a modest 126 to win, James Franklin ended the game with a six off Khulna skipper Mahmudullah Riyad off the second ball of the last over, which began with Sabbir Hossain on strike and Rajshahi needing four to win.
Their first game of the league had ended with Mahmudullah performing last-over heroics to salvage a similar situation, but it was not to be this time as Franklin's monstrous hit sailed over long on. Sabbir ended on an unbeaten 52-ball 43 with two fours and a six while Franklin scored 30 off 24 balls with two fours to go with his match-winning six.
A circumspect approach from the Kings batsmen led to them needing 31 off the last five overs to overhaul the modest total. Franklin and Sabbir negotiated that well enough, with the only real moment of tension coming in the 19th over when Junaid Khan conceded just one run off the first three balls, but a scooped boundary over short fine leg eased the Kings' nerves.
Khulna's bowlers and fielders had their tails up when they started their defence of the below-par total. Mominul Haque was the first to depart, edging a drive off Kevon Cooper to slip in the second over.
Nurul Hasan looked promising with two boundaries in the fourth and fifth overs, but the second of those preceded his downfall when he chipped Mosharraf Hossain to midwicket to depart for 14, leaving the Kings at 34 for two in the fifth over.
Sabbir and the young and impressive Afif Hossain then put their heads down for a 33-run stand in 7.1 overs, which surprisingly the youngster dominated with a 27-ball 26 that featured three well-placed boundaries, none more impressive then a lofted four over cover after shimmying down the track against Benny Howell in the 10th over. However, he was dismissed in the 12th over when Mahmudullah dropped one short and turned it enough to hold its line and evade Afif's bat to trap him in front.
Sabbir was then on an extremely sedate 13 off 28 balls, but soon started to open his shoulders by hitting his first boundary, a sweep past short fine leg off Naeem Islam Jnr in the last ball of the 13th over. A massive six over long on off Mosharraf in the 15th over signalled his intentions to take this chase home.
Earlier, the Titans openers were under pressure from disciplined bowling and tight fielding from the start. The result was a needless run-out and a brilliant piece of fielding producing another as first both Mazid and Hasanuzzaman were stranded at the striker's end with the latter having to walk back to the hut, and then a swooping direct hit from cover fielder Mehedi Hasan Miraz saw Mazid trudging back later in the same over.
12 for two became 17 for three in the fourth over when Shuvagata Hom mishit Forhad Reza to mid-on.
With Pooran and Mahmudullah at the crease, the plan seemed to be to counterattack with Pooran taking the charge against Miraz in the off-spinner's first over by hitting two fours and a six straight down the ground.
Another six from Pooran off Afif Hossain in the first ball of the seventh over took Titans to 51 for three, but things started to go awry when the left-hander holed out to long off later in the same over for a 10-ball 22.
Benny Howell departed with a leading edge off Samit Patel, caught by Darren Sammy at cover in the 11th over, to leave the Titans on 74 for five. Eight runs later Khulna's last hope, Mahmudullah, was caught at point off a top edge for 22 in the 14th over, also off Patel, who took his third wicket when he had Cooper stumped later that over. Williams then trapped Naeem in front and Mosharraf perished trying to hit a Sammy slower ball over mid off with the score reading 102 for nine in the 17th over.
But Ariful Haque, who came in at number seven, averted complete embarrassment with a 29-ball 32 and some late boundaries to take Khulna to 125 for nine. Patel was Kings' best bowler with three for 19 off four overs.