“Bangladesh are re-confirming what we’ve known for a few years now. They are a team showing that they are a genuine force in the world game.”
Ian Bishop, Former West Indies fast bowler
As Mustafizur Rahman ran up to bowl to South Africa number 10 Imran Tahir, with the Proteas needing an unlikely 44 runs from the last 16 balls, Bangladesh skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza’s smile from his position at backward point told the story. That tale was also well narrated by the rapidly emptying sections of the stands where not 15 minutes ago South African fans were seated, hoping for one last surge. Faced with the third-best team in the world, who had bullied them in their last three encounters, Bangladesh’s World Cup opener could hardly have been a tougher proposition. Yet, about a quarter of an hour after Mashrafe was seen grinning, seventh-ranked Bangladesh had completed the perfect start to their 2019 World Cup campaign by beating South Africa by 21 runs at The Oval in London yesterday.
It was the perfect start because it would have settled a lot of nerves for a team that rises and falls on momentum, and in scoring their highest ODI score of 330 for six -- which was also the highest score in the five World Cup matches so far -- they would have proven to themselves that in a tournament where big scores are forecast to be the norm, they are worthy participants. It was also a match that saw the Tigers follow to the letter their captain’s instruction of not reinventing the wheel and playing like they would in different conditions at home. They played as a unit with all eleven members playing a part, instead of going hell for leather they built partnerships -- including their highest World Cup stand of 142 between player-of-the-match Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim -- and they bowled as a unit. It was all the more auspicious for Bangladesh because they dominated playing their own game and that means they can hope to repeat it in the coming games, starting with their next match at the same venue on June 5.
It was Mustafizur who ushered many South African fans towards an early exit, and induced the army of Bangladesh fans to further exert their already frayed voices and toss their stuffed Tigers ever higher, when he had the big-hitting Chris Morris caught at deep midwicket off a full toss in the 46th over to have South Africa on 275 for seven. The Fizz then brought a smile to Mashrafe’s face in his next over by getting JP Duminy, South Africa’s last line of resistance, bowled when the left-hander inside-edged a pull shot and was bowled, leaving South Africa on 287 for eight. Kagiso Rabada and Tahir then took the score to 309 for eight, but the match had been decided when Mustafizur took his third wicket.
Shakib, Bangladesh’s ultimate man for the big occasion, chose the match to become the fastest player in ODI history to achieve the double of 250 wickets and 5,000 runs when he bowled Aiden Markram with an arm-ball in the 20th over. Shakib achieved the feat in his 199th match, 35 games quicker than Pakistan all-rounder Abdul Razzaq in second place.
But it was a team effort, which Mashrafe had said before the game that Bangladesh would need if they were to have a chance against South Africa, who he termed as favourites. Mustafizur Rahman cranked up the pace in his opening spell and, while off-spinner Mehedi Hasan Miraz proved a touch expensive in his opening spell, he always managed to pull it back and finished with the most economical figures of 44 runs from 10 overs for the all-important wicket of South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis, who threatened an alternate finish with a 53-ball 62.
All-rounder Mohammad Saifuddin was expensive at first, but he got it together in time to perform his role as a death-overs bowler, with a wicket maiden that claimed Rassie van der Dussen taking the wind out of the sails of South Africa in the 40th over. Saifuddin then added the wicket of Andile Phehlukwayo for good measure.
Mashrafe sacrificed the use of the new ball and came on after the 10th over and bore the brunt of South Africa’s best batting period -- when the first three wickets added 147 runs in 27 overs.
While Bangladesh dropped David Miller twice, once off Shakib and once off Mustafizur, the batting was without flaw. After losing the toss, Soumya Sarkar kept proving that he may turn out to be Bangladesh’s X-factor in this World Cup by hitting a 30-ball 42. Tamim Iqbal only scored 16 but he played his part in ensuring that Bangladesh did not lose early wickets by putting on 60 runs for the first wicket before being caught behind off Phehlukwayo.
Soumya had given an early message, by easily pulling pacer Lungi Ngidi for three boundaries in the third and fifth overs, that the bouncer ploy they used to much success in South Africa in October 2017 would not hold much sway here. After his dismissal, caught off the gloves after going through with a pull too early off Chris Morris, Shakib and Mushfiqur built a 142-run stand -- also Bangladesh’s highest for the wicket in 21 matches against South Africa -- carried on where Soumya had left off. Shakib hit his 43rd half-century and Mushfiqur his 34th, both punishing short deliveries at will on both sides of the wicket. After Shakib’s dismissal for 75, bowled going for a sweep off leg-spinner Imran Tahir in the 36th over, Mohammad Mithun came in and ensured that the momentum did not suffer by hitting a six and a four in a run-a-ball 21.
Even after Mithun and Mushfiqur fell, the latter for the innings-highest 78, within eight runs of each other to leave the score on 250 for five in the 43rd over, experienced campaigner Mahmudullah Riyad and rookie Mosaddek Hossain ensured that there would be sharp sting in the tail with a 66-run stand for the sixth wicket in just 6.5 overs. Mosaddek, for a batsman not known for his proficiency against pace bowling and bouncers, unleashed a couple of pulls in a 20-ball 26 and Mahmudullah accelerated as only he can towards the end with an unbeaten 33-ball 46 as Bangladesh plundered 59 runs in the last five overs.
It was the first half of a consummately Bangladeshi performance, which may be why Mashrafe was smiling at the end.