Early in his pre-match press conference, Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Bin Mortaza provided a guideline of what to expect by strongly asserting that South Africa were the favourites in the Tigers’ opening World Cup match at The Oval today. Bangladesh may have won their maiden ODI multi-team tournament a fortnight ago in Ireland, but the odds are stacked against the Tigers against an opposition they have beaten just thrice in 20 ODIs.
The match is scheduled to start at The Oval in London at 10:30 am (3:30 pm Bangladesh time). The good news for Bangladesh is that star opener Tamim Iqbal, who hurt his forearm in practice on Friday, was seen batting yesterday and will likely play today, with Mashrafe saying that the final call will be up to the batsman. Pace-bowling all-rounder Mohammad Saifuddin, who was suffering from a stiff back, also bowled in practice yesterday.
Bangladesh’s last experience of playing South Africa was not a happy one as the Tigers were clinically outplayed 3-0 in an ODI series on tour in South Africa in October 2017. Before that, in 2015, Bangladesh won a three-match series 2-1 at home. There may be a sliver of hope for the Tigers as conditions at The Oval, while expected to be batting-friendly, may end up favouring them. The pitch will be the same one as that used in the World Cup opener between South Africa and hosts England, which the latter won handsomely by bundling the Proteas out for 207 in 39.1 overs. More importantly, the pitch held some assistance for the spinners -- Bangladesh’s strength and South African batsmen’s weakness -- and England skipper Eoin Morgan said after the match that it played a little slow.
“We are playing on a used wicket, and on the Oval wicket, England scored more than 300 so we know it will be batting-friendly,” Mashrafe said. “Since it’s a used wicket, we have to see what role the spinners can play. We are hoping that it will be a flat wicket.
“We saw that the ball was gripping on the surface [in the opener], and if that happens that will be a positive for us,” said Mashrafe. “I believe that will keep most of our pacers in the game as well as our spinners.”
With cutter-specialist Mustafizur Rahman in Bangladesh’s bowling ranks, as well as Mashrafe who is adept at rolling his fingers over the seamers to keep the batsmen guessing, the pitch may well play to their favour if it continues behaving like it did on Thursday. Specialist spinners Shakib Al Hasan and Mehedi Hasan Miraz would also be interested as South Africa were troubled by England off-spinner Moeen Ali, who had the Proteas in two minds about which ones would turn and the ones that went straight on.
As far as team composition goes, it would seem that Saifuddin will be fit to play and perform his role as a death-overs specialist. Batsman Mahmudullah Riyad, who usually doubles as a useful part-time off-spinner, is still unable to bowl because of a lingering shoulder injury, according to Mashrafe and that may open the door for Mosaddek Hossain to play at number seven instead of Sabbir Rahman as the former also excelled in the tri-series final, hitting a 24-ball 52 to overhaul a challenging total.
For South Africa, there is doubt over whether Hashim Amla, who suffered a blow to the head on Thursday from England fast bowler Jofra Archer, will play today. Pace supremo Dale Steyn may miss his second match in a row as he did not bowl during practice yesterday. However, South Africa’s bench strength means that these would not be major setbacks. As their captain prescribed Bangladesh will have to forget the pressure associated with a World Cup game and treat this as just another match and hope that the conditions break their way.