Recalled Shoaib Malik smashed a solid half-century to anchor Pakistan's five-wicket win over Bangladesh in the first Twenty20 international in Lahore on Friday.
Malik's 45-ball 58 not out for his eighth Twenty20 fifty was instrumental as Pakistan overhauled a modest 142-run target in 19.3 overs to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Bangladesh had managed 141-5 in their 20 overs with openers Mohammad Naim scoring a 41-ball 43 and Tamim Iqbal hitting a 34-ball 39 as Pakistan's three-man pace attack kept them in check on a flat Gaddafi Stadium pitch.
The win further consolidated Pakistan's chances of hanging on to their world number one ranking in the shortest format. If they lose any of the remaining matches — on Saturday and Monday, also in Lahore — Australia will replace them at the top.
Lahore's foggy weather prompted the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to start the match at 2pm but it failed to attract more than 10,000 people in a stadium with 24,000 capacity.
Bangladesh could not put up a reasonable fight as Pakistan won their first match after losing six of their last seven T20 matches with one washed out.
Player of the match Malik, playing his first match since February last year, was in sublime form as he hit five boundaries and added 46 for the third wicket with debutant Ahsan Ali who made a 32-ball 36 with four boundaries.
Malik, the fourth-highest run-getter in Twenty20 internationals with 2,321 in a record 112 matches, credited bowlers for the win.
“Congratulations to the whole Pakistan for this win and for hosting another match,” said Malik. “It wasn't an easy pitch and our bowlers restricted them to a gettable total.
“It's tough to be in and out of the team but I have been playing leagues and domestic cricket and that helped me stage a comeback in this match.
“I am happy to help achieve this win in a chase.”
But Pakistan's chase was initially jolted when they lost world number one Twenty20 batsman Babar Azam on only the second ball into their innings, caught behind off an inside edge off fast bowler Shafiul Islam. Shafiul was the best Bangladeshi bowler with 2-27.
Mohammad Hafeez, another recalled batsman, hit three crisp boundaries and was looking in good touch before he miscued a flick and was caught off Mustafizur Rahman for 17.
Malik and Ahsan took Pakistan to 81 before Iftikhar Ahmed (16) added a further 36 for the fourth wicket but even the fall of Iftikhar and Imad Wasim (six) did not derail Pakistan.
Earlier, Bangladesh, who won the toss and opted to bat, were off to a good start as Iqbal and Naim put on 70 for the opening wicket.
Naim, fresh from his top score of 81 against India in November last year, cracked three boundaries and a six while Iqbal had four boundaries and a six but Pakistan pulled the scoring rate between 12-15 overs which yielded just 21 runs.
Iqbal was run out in the 11th over while Naim holed out off spinner Shadab Khan in the 15th. Skipper Mahmudullah hit two boundaries in his 14-ball 19 not out.
Pakistan handed Twenty20 debuts to opener Ahsan and pacer Haris Rauf.
'Do or die'
The series is a critical one for Pakistan, who are struggling to retain their top spot in the International Cricket Council's world T20 ranking, which they have held since 2018. Recently, Pakistan have had an unimpressive run in T20s — in October, they were whitewashed by an amateur Sri Lankan team in Lahore and lost another series to Australia a month later.
“Every match is a do-or-die for us,” Babar, who replaced Sarfaraz Ahmed as skipper, told a press conference on Thursday. “We have planned accordingly, we have talked to the players that they should give 110 per cent since the focus is to continue the number one ranking. We can hang on to that only if we win all three matches.”
"We have been preparing well and we will try not to repeat the same mistakes that we did against Sri Lanka,” said Babar. “We played four matches during the training camp and the team has gelled well. Our team is a good combination of senior and junior players and I’m expecting a good result."
Meanwhile, Bangladesh, whose tour was confirmed last week, have a strong batting line-up with the inclusion of Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Naim and Liton Das. Batsman Mushfiqur Rahim, who refused to accompany his team due to his family's concerns, is the only notable absence.
As part of strict security measures for the series, about 10,300 security personnel were posted at different points and roads were blocked within a two-kilometre radius of the Gaddafi Stadium. Spectators were driven to the stadium in shuttles.
The tour is of significance for Pakistan, as it is another step towards efforts to assure the world that the country is safe to host international cricket. Bangladesh had initially declined to play a Test in Pakistan, proposing that the match be held on a neutral venue. The PCB, however, refused to hold the match elsewhere.
Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Iftikhar Ahmad, Shoaib Malik, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Rizwan (wicketkeeper), Shadab Khan, Ahsan Ali, Amad Butt, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Hasnain, Shaheen Afridi, Muhammad Musa, Usman Qadir and Haris Rauf
Bangladesh: Mahmudullah (captain), Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Mohammad Naim, Najmul Hossain Shanto, Liton Das (wicketkeeper), Mohammad Mithun, Afif Hossain, Mahedi Hasan, Aminul Islam, Mustafizur Rahman, Shafiul Islam, Al-Amin Hossain, Rubel Hossain, Hasan Mahmud