Markram departs but Proteas dominant
Bangladesh enjoyed an undeserved stroke of luck just before the tea break when a mix-up between the South African opening pair of Dean Elgar and debutant Aiden Markram caused the latter to be run out three runs short of what would have been the seventh century on debut by a South African. Soon after the 196-run opening stand was broken, Elgar reached his century, but even as he raised helmet and bat to celebrate the occasion the disappointment of depriving his young partner a slice of history was writ large on his face.
He reached his ninth Test ton with a sliced mishit past mid-on off the bowling of Mehedi Hasan Miraz in the same over, the 55th, also the last of the afternoon session which yielded 99 runs, the same as the first session on the first day of the first Test at Senwes Park in Potchefstroom.
Markram had played beautifully for 97, a debut innings studded with on drives, cover drives, and sumptuous straight drives off the pacers. He had hit 13 sweetly timed boundaries in his 152-ball innings. The wicket was undeserved for Bangladesh because by that stage in the match skipper Mushfiqur Rahim had resorted to bowling part-timers Mominul Haque and Mahmudullah Riyad and there was no pressure to speak of that produced the mix-up. Markram, upon seeing Elgar advance a few steps down the pitch after playing Mehedi to point, ran too far down the pitch to return in time.
Otherwise, what started as perhaps a dull realisation of their mistake in choosing to field first became a full-blown reckoning as Bangladesh were made to toil in the field for the second session in a row. It was fitting that the only wicket to fall was to a run-out as none of the six bowlers used so far looked remotely likely to take a wicket.
The folly of the decision to field first was in further evidence as the odd ball kept low, hinting that the side bowling last would have some advantage with spin.
Earlier, the morning session was as one-sided as it gets with the home side playing trouble-free cricket to reach 99 without loss at lunch. Ironically the one thing Bangladesh got right was the one thing they could have done with getting wrong – Mushfiqur Rahim called correctly at the toss and to everyone's surprise on a pitch devoid of grass, sent the Proteas in, much to the delight of home skipper Faf du Plessis, who may as well have been smirking when he said that he would have opted to bat.
It went downhill from there. Mustafizur Rahman opened the bowling with Shafiul Islam. The pace duo were faced with the experienced Dean Elgar and an exciting, talented debutant in Aiden Markram. There was no swing, no seam on offer -- there was just good carry, and that played into the hands of the South African batsmen for whom it is second nature to play on such pitches. Two hours later, Markram was walking back unbeaten on 43 with Elgar unconquered on 56, having worked up a light appetite for lunch.
The utter confusion in the Bangladesh ranks was exemplified by the sight of off-spinner Mehedi Hasan Miraz coming on to bowl in the sixth over, giving the lie to any notion of there being a plan to attack with pace after bowling first.
Although it looked grim seen through Bangladeshi eyes, from the Proteas' perspective the prospect was as bright as the mid-day sunshine after the clouds that may have influenced Bangladesh's decision parted. There was some excitement about Markram's inclusion in the side, and the 22-year-old tall right-hander looked every bit the part. Apart from one instance in the 19th over when he was surprised by Taskin's bounce and the ball landed just in front of a diving Mustafizur Rahman at point, Markram was in total command and unfurled some cover drives and on drives which illustrated just what all the fuss was about.
Elgar chose to face a lion's share of the deliveries, perhaps to shelter his young partner (although from what it is yet to be discerned), and was in command throughout, reaching his ninth Test fifty off his 86th ball with a single off Mehedi in the 24th over.
The Tigers will be taking an uneasy lunch, wondering if they can repair the damage that was altogether their own making. If the morning session is anything to go by, the answer does not look good.