Tigers fail to learn
The first day of the second Test against South Africa made for some grim watching, not just for Bangladeshis but also for the South Africans and neutrals at the Mangaung Oval in Bloemfontein yesterday. It might be seen as beating a dead horse to talk about the toss after the Potchefstroom debacle, but there is some life in the horse yet. Yes, the Bloemfontein wicket has more grass and more bounce than the flat track laid out at Potchefstroom, but in choosing to field first yet again skipper Mushfiqur Rahim proved that neither he nor the team management have learned a single lesson from the 333-run defeat in the first Test.
The result was an even greater leather chase for Bangladesh than on the corresponding day in the first Test as South Africa reached 428 for three after 90 overs of the first day, the fifth-highest total conceded by Bangladesh in a day. There were twin tons from opener Dean Elgar, who scored 113 from 152 balls with 17 fours, and Aiden Markram who scored 143 from 188 balls with 22 fours. Hashim Amla was not out on 89 and skipper Faf Du Plessis was batting on 62.
There was one more thing to worry about for Bangladesh as Imrul Kayes, at 1:16pm in the 35th over was hit on the knee while fielding at gully and limped off the field. Mushfiqur informed after the day that Imrul's knee did not look fractured, but it had swollen up and they will wait till today morning to know about his condition.
The openers put on 243 runs in just 53.4 overs, and while the bowlers were surely at fault for their lack of discipline, Mushfiqur's demeanour for large stretches of that partnership was beyond the pale. A Test captain who had asked the opposition to bat first and was helming an inexperienced attack had removed himself to the boundary and left the team seemingly to its own devices for long stretches after the first hour till the tea interval.
If there was one lesson that was loud and clear from Potchefstroom, it was that handed out by the home batsmen on exactly how to bat first in a Test match and put the opposition under scoreboard pressure. The Tigers came into the Test with four changes; only Mustafizur Rahman survived among the four specialist bowlers from Potchefstroom. Yet, somehow, Mushfiqur had the confidence in the new-look attack to risk the same punishment all over again, on a pitch that although containing more bounce and pace, also held good value for shots as the ball came onto the bat more than it did in Potchefstroom.
While they failed to learn the wider lesson from the first Test, they showed a startling inability to learn from their mistakes while on the field. Only Mustafizur, whose six pre-lunch overs went for just 13 runs, seemed aware of the way to bowl on a good wicket against good batsmen. Subhasish and Rubel over-pitched regularly and were punished in the first session, but they would not adjust their length and neither would Mushfiqur adjust his field until after lunch, by which time the South Africans had put on 126 without loss.
After lunch, there was a new ploy as the quick bowlers tried bouncers and on a bouncy wicket, that produced better results. The field also reflected the strategy, with two men out on the boundary for the hook and either a squarish leg gully or a short leg employed for the pacers. Mustafizur seemed to be the most obvious pupil as his consistent around-the-wicket bouncers to Elgar frustrated the batsman, but Mustafizur's reward was denied when keeper Liton Das dropped a high chance off a gloved hook when Elgar was on 110 in the 50th over. Subhasish soon benefitted from Mustafizur's toil as another top edge was beautifully taken by Mustafizur himself to send back Elgar in the 54th over.
The short bowling worked wonders for Rubel as well as, in the 59th over during the evening session, a series of bouncers pinned Markram back and then a swinging yorker cannoned off his pads into the stumps. A rare good ball from Subhasish then accounted for Temba Bavuma, who edged a delivery that was nipping away to bring the score to 288 for three.
That was the end of the joy for Bangladesh as Amla and Du Plessis put on 140 runs for the unbroken fourth wicket in just 28.4 overs as Bangladesh overdid the short bowling. But that readjustment, fans will hope, will come this morning after they have had the time to digest some lessons in the dressing room.