Comilla Victorians became the first team to book a place in the final of the sixth edition of the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL), courtesy of an unbeaten 53-ball 71 from opener Evin Lewis that saw his side romp to an eight-wicket victory over defending champions Rangpur Riders at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur yesterday.
Coming into the match on a six-match winning streak, Rangpur however made a solid start in the first BPL qualifier as Mashrafe Bin Mortaza's side posted a challenging 165 for five, which was powered by an unbeaten 28-ball 53-run cameo from all-rounder Benny Howell.
In chase of the stiff total, Comilla lost opener Tamim Iqbal early in the innings but a 90-run second-wicket stand between Lewis and Anamul Haque kept Comilla abreast of the required run rate before the latter saw his stumps rattled by a Shafiul Islam delivery after scoring 39 runs off 32 balls. However, Lewis's unbeaten knock and Shamsur Rahman's fiery innings at the death, when the right-hander smashed 34 runs off 15 balls with four boundaries and two sixes, helped Comilla get over the line comfortably with seven balls to spare.
Earlier, it was Rangpur's depth in their pool of foreign players -- opener Chris Gayle, Rilee Rossouw and Howell -- that proved vital for the franchise as their contributions, aided by some sloppy fielding from Comilla, helped the defending champions put up a strong show after electing to bat.
Rangpur opener Gayle, who could not display his explosive nature in this edition of the BPL, looked shaky yet again. The left-hander survived a run-out scare and was also dropped on 45 by off-spinner Mahedi Hasan during his 44-ball 46. He was dismissed by the same bowler in the next over. Nevertheless, the left-hander's shaky but crucial contributions helped his side's cause.
A 70-run fifth-wicket stand between Rossouw and Howell gave Rangpur relief after they fell to 76 for four and proved crucial in posting a challenging total. While Rossouw was dismissed in the 19th over off a Mohammad Saifuddin delivery, Howell remained unbeaten throughout as he and new batsman Nahidul Islam smashed 18 crucial runs in the last over from Wahab Riaz to help Rangpur finish with a flourish.
Despite the loss yesterday, Rangpur will benefit from finishing the league stage of the tournament as one of the two top teams as they will have a second shot at a final berth when they play in the second qualifier against Dhaka Dynamites tomorrow.