Ton-up Ashraful takes Gladiators to top-two

Mohammad Ashraful returned to his best to score his first ever Twenty20 century and guide Dhaka Gladiators to a six-wicket win over Khulna Royal Bengals in the Bangladesh Premier League in Dhaka on Monday.
Gladiators, riding on Ashraful’s unbeaten 103 from 58 balls, raced to 180-4 to confirm their top-two finish in league phase, which has an added significance because of the tournament format.
Unlike the first edition, the tournament has no semi-finals – rather a qualifier and two eliminators will decide the two finalists. The top two teams will play in the qualifier and the winners will move into the final while the losers will play against the victors between the third and fourth teams for a place in the final.
It means Gladiators, who have now 16 points from 10 matches and cannot be overtaken by any other side, apart from Sylhet Royals, will get now at least two chances to make it to the final.
They have their captain on the day Ashraful to thank for taking them to this position after he kept his cool to see them through despite an unexpected collapse in the middle-order.
Chasing Khulna Royal Bengals’ 176-6, Gladiators at one stage lost Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sakib al Hasan and Anamul Haque in three consecutive overs to stutter at 45-3.
Ashraful not only steadied their innings, but also kept the scoreboard ticking without allowing any pressure to build on his side. Joshua Cobb provided the initial support with 31 from 30 balls before Darren Stevens (36 from 21 balls) gave the finishing touch.
Khulna Royal Bengals were left ruing for dropping Ashraful on 47 and 94 runs, which could have made the result different. Wicketkeeper Mohammad Mithun was guilty on first occasion before Ashraful had completed his fifty from 27 balls.
Sanjamul Islam had the chance to deny Ashraful his century when he dived to his left at long-off to take what could have been the catch of the tournament. But he could only touch the ball with his hand and Ashraful soon reached his milestone with a boundary from a misfielding.
The century has made Ashraful, who struck 14 fours and two sixes, only the second batsman to get a hundred in the BPL-2 after Shahriar Nafees and the first by a batsman of a side batting second.
Royal Bengals’ Travis Birt could have joined his team-mate Shahriar before Ashraful after he batted sensibly to bail his side out from a top-order collapse. But he had to remain content with 94 not out, hitting six fours and as many sixes.
After Khulna lost their openers for 10 runs, Birt added 120 runs with Jehan Mubarak (65 from 43 balls) to take the side to a respectable position which, however, was not enough.
BRIEF SCORES
Khulna Royal Bengals 176-6 in 20 overs (TR Birt 94 not out, J Mubarak 65; A Thomas 3-34, Sakib al Hasan 2-24) v Dhaka Gladiators 180-4 in 19.2 overs (M Ashraful 103 not out, D Stevens 36 not out, J Cobb 31).
Result: Dhaka Gladiators won by 6 wickets.
Man of the match: M Ashraful (DG).

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