Forhad Reza's four-wicket haul and a serious batting effort from the top order have put Rajshahi Division on the cusp of a record-equalling sixth National Cricket League title after the third day of the sixth and final round yesterday.
Aptly playing in their own Shaheed Kamruzzaman Stadium, Rajshahi need just 102 more runs with eight wickets in hand on today's final day to beat Barishal Division and finish above all other contenders with 34.81 points. However, if disaster were to strike or rain prevents enough overs (the forecast is promising), then Rangpur Division could possibly pip them to the title by winning their match against defending champions Khulna, who will be desperately looking to avoid the humiliation after ending the third day 204 runs in front in their second innings.
Both Rajshahi and Barishal corrected course in their second innings after falling for 160 and 97 respectively in their first innings. Resuming their second innings on 246 for four on the third day, overnight batsmen Shamsul Islam and Tanvir Islam built a 70-run seventh-wicket partnership. But in the nick of time veteran all-round Forhad Reza stepped up and took the last four wickets with his accurate medium pace. Barishal were all out for 346, setting Rajshahi a challenging winning target of 284.
The championship hopefuls took up that challenge in style, reaching 182 for two when stumps were drawn. Junaid Siddique, who hit 78 in the first innings, was unbeaten on 65 and with him was skipper Jahurul Islam on 25.
At the Shaheed Chandu Stadium in Bogura, Rangpur were desperate enough for the title to declare their first innings 12 runs behind Khulna's total of 261 to inject some pace into the game which was called off early on all three days because of bad light. They had resumed the third day on 124 for six and, riding on an unbeaten 50 from Dhiman Ghosh and 48 from Sohrawardi Shuvo, declared their innings on 248 for eight midway through the second session. Khulna skipper Abdur Razzak took four for 62.
Khulna kept fighting through Soumya Sarkar's 83, ending the day on 192 for six.
In the two Tier-2 games taking place in Cox's Bazar, promotion hopefuls Dhaka Division were heading for a draw with Sylhet Division. Enamul Haque Jr's 17th five-wicket haul could not dampen Dhaka's momentum as they scored 346, which gave them a 108-run first-innings lead. Sylhet were 102 for four at the close.
Dhaka Metro, meanwhile, were on 96 for three in their second innings after conceding a 17-run first-innings lead to Chattogram Division. With both matches heading towards a draw, Dhaka Division are likely to emulate Rajshahi's accomplishment in the previous season and be promoted to the top tier.
♦ A win for Rajshahi will confirm their sixth championship as, having earned 1.5 bonus bowling points from the final round, they will reach 34.81 points. If they lose the match against Barishal, they will have 26.81 points and 28.81 in the event of a draw.
♦ Rangpur will have to win against Khulna and hope that Rajshahi lose or draw their match. Also with 1.5 bonus bowling points, a win will give Rangpur 30.59 points, which will drop to 24.59 if the match ends in a draw and 22.59 if they lose.
♦ Defending champions Khulna will be relegated if both Tier-1 matches end in draws. But if they draw their match and Barishal lose, Barishal will drop out. A win for either side will avert relegation, while a win for both will see Khulna out.
SCORES IN BRIEF
KHULNA V RANGPUR
KHULNA: First innings 261 and second innings 192 for 6 (Soumya 83, Nurul 52; Robiul 22-1, Mahmudul 2-38)
RANGPUR: First innings 249 for 8 decl (Maruf 42, Shuvo 48, Tanbir 28, Dhiman 50 not out, Sajedul 29; Razzak 4-62)
BARISHAL V RAJSHAHI
BARISHAL: First innings 97 and second innings 346 all out (Nafees 33, Al-Amin 97, Nuruzzaman 45, Shamsul 56, Tanvir 32; Farhad 4-59, Mohor 3-64)
RAJSHAHI: First innings 160 and second innings 182 for 2 (Mizanur 30, Sabbir 49, Junaid 65 not out, Jahurul 25 not out; Tanvir 1-35)
DHAKA METRO V CHATTOGRAM
DHAKA METRO: First innings 328 and second innings 96 for 3 (Azmir 20, Shamsur 37; Nayeem 1-20)
CHATTOGRAM: First innings 345 all out (Sadikur 101, Pinak 76, Yasir 64, Nayeem 43 not out; Onik 3-64, Hider 4-97)
SYLHET V DHAKA DIVISION
SYLHET: First innings 238 and second innings 102 for 4 (Rajin 40 not out, Kapali 39; Shahadat 2-19
DHAKA DIV: First innings 346 (Mazid 104, Raqibul 40, Shuvagata 30, Nadif 28, Mosharraf 50, Shahadat 34 not out; Enamul 5-87, Ebadat 2-59)