South Africa, number two in the official ICC ODI rankings, didn’t look the part on Thursday against England. In yesterday’s match-up against Masrafe Mortaza’s seventh-ranked Bangladeshis, they did get the fans talking about number two but the reference was not to their ranking.
Asked to get a World Cup record 331 for the win, Faf du Plessis’ side fell 21 runs short—but their eventual 309 might well have been much more than they needed had they not messed things up towards the end of the Bangladesh innings.
Given first strike after du Plessis won the toss, Bangladesh made haste while the sun shone. The potentially destructive Tamim Iqbal went early. But Sarkar Soumya, who showed off his wares against the West Indies in Ireland, turned on the power and blasted 42 off 30 balls—with nine fours!
When he departed at 75 for 2 in the 12th over, ex-captains Mushfiqur Rahim (78 off 80) and Man-of-the-Match Shakib Al Hasan (75 off 84) came together in a record 142-run partnership to take the score past 200 before Shakib was bowled by Imran Tahir. When Mushfiqur too went, the Proteas managed to slow the momentum somewhat…
…until, not for the first time in the World Cup, the South Africans contrived to shoot themselves in the foot.
With four overs left, Kagiso Rabada, who conceded 57 off his ten overs, completely misjudged a skier on the square-leg boundary and gave Mahmudullah (46 off 33) a fortuitous boundary. Riding his luck, the fortunate batsman then joined with Mosaddek Hossain to add a total of 54 off the last four overs.
For the Proteas, it is a familiar story; ever since they were welcomed back into the international arena in 1992, they have often been their own worst enemy. And it did not stop when they came out to bat. One sometimes had to remind oneself that it was a short-format game.
Well aware of the dangerous Quinton de Kock’s preference for pace on the ball, Mortaza gave the new ball to his lead spinner, Mehidy Hasan Miraz. Neither de Kock (23 off 32) nor Aiden Markram (45 off 56) could find their rhythm, repeatedly finding the fieldsman instead of the gaps.
That continued even after de Kock’s exit in the 10th over, thanks to another de Kock-up. Dropped by Mushfiqur standing up to the stumps, the opener responded to his partner’s call for a single.
He was stopped in his tracks by Markram’s change of mind and changed direction but the wicketkeeper’s direct hit found him short of his ground.
Enter Du Plessis (62 off 53), who looked like a man on a mission but one whose usual fluency had largely deserted him. When, at 147, he ran down the pitch after Mehidy and missed, losing his leg-stump in the process, his side needed 184 off 138 balls and the required rate had risen to eight.
The slump of his shoulders said he did not believe. The remaining batsmen gave it their best shot, with Rassie van der Dussen (41 off 38) and JP Duminy (45 off 37) keeping faint hope alive. But with almost 11 overs left and 103 still needed, van der Dussen followed his skipper example and was bowled.
In the end, 331 proved more than a bridge too far.
The victorious Bangladeshis will be fancying their chances. In 2015, they reached the World Cup quarter-finals and, two years later, they were semi-finalists in the Champions Trophy. They will be hoping to continue the positive pattern.
The fixtures do not offer them easy momentum since they meet none of the bottom four teams in the first three rounds. Next up for them are New Zealand and England, whom they stunned in 2015. One can only guess at the degree to which that upset victory will affect their attitude to their 8 June match-up; England, ranked number one, are playing at home and have the world to prove.
But the Bangladeshis showed yesterday that their combination of youth and experience—Mortaza’s first World Cup appearance was in the 2003 and Mushfiqur’s and Shakib’s in 2007—works well for them.
And Mortaza, Mushfiqur and Shakib will not be the only ones well aware of how far they have come from the days when the only chance Bangladesh had of getting into the first four at a World Cup was on an alphabetical list.
So, with two games completed, the Proteas are still to get on the tins. And things look likely to get worse for them before they get better—if they get better. Next up for them on Wednesday are India, who, inexplicably, will be playing their first game while the Proteas are playing their third.
A third straight loss would most likely put them deeper in the doo-doo. And they can expect no helping hand from the still positive Jason Holder and his West Indians when the two meet in Southampton next week Monday.