This tour so far has been characterised by poor cricket from Bangladesh on the field, and empty words off it. Regrettably, ODI skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza is the latest one to have proven the inefficacy of his words when it comes to putting those ideas in action on the field. And although it was not like the failure to follow his own prescription turned a potential win into another loss -- Bangladesh were not on level terms for even a 10-over passage of play -- but had the captain remembered his own words, perhaps the loss would not have been as crushing as it was.
On the eve of the third and final ODI in East London, he had talked about the need to take early wickets if they were bowling first, and while the quality of the bowling did not warrant an early wicket, Mashrafe let the side down with the bowling changes he effected when Mehedi Hasan Miraz had given them exactly what they were looking for – two quick wickets and two new batsmen at the crease, one of them a debutant.
On Saturday, Mashrafe talked about the need to keep pressure on from both ends if they are to get any success. South Africa were scoring at a rate of knots when Mehedi had dismissed Temba Bavuma -- only six of the previous 17 overs had cost less than six runs, and the cheapest of them yielded three – but there was a bit of pressure being exerted after Bavuma's departure. That over cost three, and the next three overs from Shakib Al Hasan and Mehedi conceded just 13. The pressure told on Quinton de Kock and he fell in the 22nd over trying to release it.
It seemed that Bangladesh were finally making some headway and Mehedi had hit a groove as Aiden Markram and Faf du Plessis scored just 18 runs from overs 22 to 26. Another scalp seemed to be in the offing if the pressure could be maintained for a while longer.
With all five specialist bowlers on the park, Mashrafe then brought on part-timer Mahmudullah Riyad. Du Plessis does not look a gift horse in the mouth. He correctly read the move as the Bangladesh captain reverting to formula instead of being proactive, and duly tonked a four and a six off Mahmudullah's first over. Mashrafe persisted with the part-timer, and his third over cost 17 as Markram hit a four and a six and Du Plessis added another boundary. Outrageously, Mashrafe brought on Sabbir Rahman, a seventh or eighth bowler during a Test leather-chase at best, to replace Shakib and he conceded eight. Shakib had conceded just nine in two overs after Mehedi was given a break. Sabbir and Mahmudullah conceded 41 off four.
If it was a reversion to formula, one may ask why that formula existed in the first place when five bowlers were on the park. A better question, in light of the batting that followed, was whether Bangladesh's hearts were in the contest at all.