There was a subplot heading into yesterday’s World Cup match between Bangladesh and South Africa at The Oval. Two contrasting cricketing cultures were going to clash on neutral territory, with each winning series against the other in their own backyards over the last four-year cycle. While South Africa’s batsmen can power-hit throughout the 50 overs, Bangladesh’s batsmen prefer cricketing shots and a more conventional approach towards a 300-plus total. South Africa’s bowlers rely on pace and impact, and Bangladesh’s batsmen are widely perceived to be suspect against the short stuff.
With many teams, including South Africa in their opener against England on Thursday, finishing on low scores in their eagerness to reach the magical 350 mark popularised over the last two years by the hosts, Bangladesh skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza insisted on Saturday that it was imperative that Bangladesh not reinvent the wheel and play the way they have been playing at home. At the halfway stage, having scored their highest total of 330 for six in 50 overs, it seemed that the Bangladeshi brand of cricket had won the day while the South African style floundered.
Another factor in Bangladesh’s opener was the nerves the Tigers would have to deal with after all the hype surrounding their chances in the World Cup. But Bangladesh were calm -- from a 60-run opening stand between Soumya Sarkar and Tamim Iqbal, through a 142-run third-wicket stand between Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim and finally to a bright finish that realised 86 runs in the last 10 overs.
There were fairly early signs for South Africa that a bouncer barrage like the one they bullied the Tigers with in October 2017 would not bear much fruit, but they kept on trying through the pacers Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris, Andile Phehlukwayo and Lungi Ngidi, who left the field with a side strain after the seventh over. Soumya, Tamim, Shakib and Mushfiqur were all comfortable against the short ball, pulling singles down to fine leg and cutting and pulling boundaries along the ground and in the air.
If the pacers erred on the short side for South Africa, Bangladesh’s expertise against spin thwarted South Africa’s spin trio of specialist leg-spinner Imran Tahir and part-time off-spinners Aiden Markram and JP Duminy. Their 16 overs combined cost 105 runs for the two wickets Tahir took.
For their part, Bangladesh played perhaps the perfect game with the bat, following their captain’s advice to preserve wickets and build partnerships to the letter. Shakib and Mushfiqur’s stand -- Bangladesh’s highest in the World Cup and their highest for the third wicket against South Africa -- may have been the backbone of the innings, but every player played their assigned roles.
Even if Tamim scored just 16, he was part of yet another meaningful opening stand with Soumya, whose 32-ball 40 set South Africa on the back foot early. When Mohammad Mithun came in at the fall of Shakib’s wicket, with the score on 217 for three, he smote a four and a six in a run-a-ball 21 that kept the momentum going. Mosaddek Hossain then hit a 20-ball 26 after Mushfiqur departed in the 43rd over and ensured that there would be no hiccups, but just a hike in the scoring as he built a 66-run partnership with Mahmudullah Riyad, who was the real impetus-provider with an unbeaten 46 off 33 balls, in just 6.5 overs.
This was a refinement of the kind of innings Bangladesh like to build and have built in the past. Happily for the Tigers, they continued their recent uptick in form, seen in an unbeaten trophy win in Ireland in May, to the big stage. Instead, and not many would have expected it as the Proteas would have wanted to dominate after losing their opener, it was the South Africans who failed to find their game.