One Step Forward and Half a Step Back
South Africa's tour to the sub-continent started with a bang, in more ways than one. Even before they selected a side to tour Bangladesh there was a tremendous amount of friction within the upper echelons of their cricketing establishment. There was a highly charged and public spat between South African coach Mickey Arthur and Cricket South Africa chairman Norman Arendse over team selection and while it never really threatened the tour; it did put the players and coach under immense pressure. Not what one would expect after a wonderful few months for South African cricket. Their golden run started in Pakistan with a series victory and followed it up at home when they demolished New Zealand. The West Indies were next in line and while they did test them, their resistance only lasted a few matches. The South Africans won the test series 2-1 and steamrolled them 5-0 in the ODI series.
Bangladesh on the other hand did not have much form behind them leading into the series. The real news to come out of the Bangladeshi camp was that the home series would be the last assignment for the long serving left armer Mohammad Rafique. With only six test wickets needed for him to become the first Bangladeshi to 100 he was looking forward to the series in more ways than one. Along the same lines the out of favour Khaled Mashud also wished to end his international career with a game at home. A wish that the Bangladesh Cricket Board seemed reluctant to fulfil. Aside from retirements there were also a few other issues to be taken care of. The team for the first test still had to be settled and there were a few whispered words spoken when the test specialist Enamul Haque Jnr was left out of the final 14 for Abdur Razzak. At the end of the day it was the best decision to take, as Enamul had not impressed for some time and Razzak also known as an ODI specialist kept up his consistent performances even if they were in the shorter form of the game.
Shahadat celebrates one of his nine wickets in the match
The South Africans landed on Valentines Day something which must have peeved Graeme Smith as he was recently quoted saying, "It's kind of hard to go on one date, have a nice dinner and then say: 'That was nice - what are you doing in six weeks' time? I'm going to Chittagong'", when talking about why he was still single. With a lonely valentines day behind them the South Africans went into the three-day game with the Bangladesh Cricket Board XI at Fatullah needing some match practise. Against some uninspired bowling they racked up a decent 397 in their first innings with centuries coming from Hashim Amla and Mark Boucher. In reply the BCB XI performed quite outstandingly as they eased to first innings lead tackling the bowling of Ntini, Steyn and Morkel with consummate ease.
The flat pitch provided an ideal warm up to the first test as the BCB XI which included five batsmen who would play in the first test all got some practise. Junaid Siddique followed up his impressive tour of New Zealand with a fine century as Shakib and Aftab also got some much needed time in the middle against the bowling attack they would face only a few days later. The game was a rude awakening for the tourists who expected to ease through the match without much fuss. In the end they conceded over 400 runs at four runs an over with their full strength bowling line up. The first test was not going to be as easy as they expected.
Before the first test at Mirpur all the focus was on the pitch and how it would play. With Bangladesh going for two spinners in the allrounder Shakib and Rafique there was a clear indication that the home side thought it would take to spin. That made the toss even more important to win for the home team as they would prefer to bat first and set the Africans a total in the fourth innings on a wearing track with two spinners. Luck favoured Bangladesh as they won the toss and set out to bat first against an intimidating fast bowling attack. Steyn ripped through the batting with a wicket on the second ball of the match and followed that up with another one an over later. Just outside the first hour and Bangladesh were 60 for 4 with Ashraful batting fluently and slightly recklessly. That soon became 82 for 5 as Ashraful perished to a rubbish shot, playing one too many after having raced to 34 of 27 balls. It was reckless to say the least from the captain and one wonders how many more times he will need to learn from his painfully obvious mistakes.
Aftab and Shakib who both faced the same attack in the three-day warm up match steadied the ship to take Bangladesh to 150 without further loss. Then as it happens so often one wicket brought another and Bangladesh eventually folded for 192 in a mere 54 overs, proving once again that they did not have the stomach to grind out runs in a test match situation. South Africa went into bat with 30 overs to play and were rocked early when a fired up Shahadat Hossain scalped Smith and McKenzie cheaply. Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis were also removed when Rafique turned them both over with balls that kept low; an alarming sight on the first day of a test. By stumps south Africa was teetering precariously at 76 for 4 as Bangladesh showed there was fight to their game.
The following day Prince fell early to a run out but AB de Villiers and night watchman Botha kept up with the pace. They milked the bowling quite easily and de Villiers was particularly severe on anything loose. He eventually fell to a most unusual dismissal when Ashraful sent down a rank long hop that bounced twice before de Villiers tried to send it into orbit. All he succeeded in doing was getting a top edge that Ashraful gratefully accepted. With him went the rest of the South African batting as Shahadat mopped up the tail with four quick wickets. Amazingly Bangladesh gained a valuable 22 run lead, something which has not happened for some time. Shahadat ended with superb figures of 6 for 27 in 15 magnificent overs and deserved all the praise he got.
With a slender lead Bangladesh went into their second innings with confidence. It's a shame that the batsmen did not carry the same confidence with them as the home side lost wickets early yet again. Before long it was 85 for 4 with a lead of over a hundred runs and the game hug in the balance. Junaid put together a wonderfully crafted partnership with Aftab as he got to a fifty and the highest score in the match. With the score at 148 they fell in successive overs and the end was in sight for the innings. Jacques Kallis bowled an immaculate spell to finish things off at the end and South Africa was left to chase a tricky 205 in the last innings.
Rafiqe picks up Kallis with straight ball that kept low
They started well and put on 50 in no time before Mckenzie fell to Shahadat for the second time in the match. One down Amla and Smith added another 70 runs without much fuss as they played the bowling with consummate ease. It looked to be a straightforward chase for the visitors before a triple strike from Shahadat and Rafique brought the visitors to a tricky 144 for 4 on a wearing wicket and with a few fired up bowlers. With the pressure of a chase South Africa needed some time and space to breathe as they took stock of the situation. That time and space was provided by the Bangladeshi captain Ashraful as he spread the field far and wide in an all out effort to help the South Africans with their run chase. When the pressure needed to be applied he loosened it and with the field spread back Prince and de Villiers milked easy singles to take them to the brink of victory. It was dumbfounding captaincy from Ashraful by the end of the third day the visitors only needed 27 more to win.
The match was duly ended on the fourth morning as Shahadat picked up another wicket just for good measure and was left agonisingly on 9 wickets for the match. It was more than a hard fought victory for the visitors and in the process Bangladesh proved they were up for a fight and were not to be taken lightly, but with every step forward there seems to be half a step back for Bangladesh cricket. They played well but still could not occupy the crease for long periods of time and Ashraful's batting and captaincy both left a lot to be desired. The second match should be another keenly fought contest but with every step forward there should be no looking back.
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