The ultimate clash of Titans
When South Africa locked horns with Bangladesh in the three-match One-Day International (ODI) series, hosts were on a roll and this was going to be a big hurdle. South Africa were favourites going into the series and the visitors lived up to the expectations in the series opener. South Africa registered an emphatic win in the opening game and won it comprehensively by eight wickets.
Bangladesh returned from nowhere and gave South Africa a taste of their own medicine in the second encounter, winning it by seven wickets and 134 deliveries to spare. The third and the ultimate game at Chittagong turned out to be a virtual final as both the teams were equally placed with one win apiece. Bangladesh had never won a bilateral ODI series against South Africa but were on a roll in the recent times. They had whitewashed Pakistan in a three-match series at home and then emerged victorious against India. South Africa threatened to put brakes on their winning streak and Bangladesh had a lot of pressure mounting on them.
Bangladesh were conventionally known as ‘minnows’ but two back-to-back performances against strong sides made them a force to reckon. South Africa was going to be their litmus test and Bangladesh were just a win away from scripting history.
South Africa won the toss and elected to bat first in a rain-curtailed match. The match was reduced to 40 overs a side. Bangladeshi bowlers were outstanding with the ball as they restricted the star-studded South African side to a modest total of 168. Barring JP Duminy and David Miller, none of the South African batsmen managed to get going. Shakib Al Hasan was the pick of the bowler with three wickets to his name while Mustafizur Rahman and Rubel Hossain had three wickets apiece. Their bowlers got the job done and it was now on the batting unit to carry the team over the line. And Bangladeshi batsmen did not disappoint.
As per the D/L method, Bangladesh had a target of 170 to be chased in order to script history. South Africa had the bowling attack to restrict Bangladesh on a surface, which had some help for the bowlers. Tamim Iqbal and Soumya Sarkar came out all guns blazing and stitched a 154-run stand in 148 deliveries and steered his side to a commanding position.
The Soumya show
Sarkar didn’t let the run-rate climb and kept scoring at a brisk rate. In the eighth over, Sarkar smashed three consecutive boundaries off Kagiso Rabada’s fourth over and brought up the 50-run stand along with Tamim Iqbal. Neither spin nor pace seemed to have troubled him as he kept scoring with ease and was taking the game away from South Africa with his belligerence.
Sarkar scored his second consecutive fifty when he scored a boundary off Morne Morkel in the 16th over. Sarkar’s 50 off 41 deliveries, is also the fastest for a Bangladeshi batsman against South Africa.
Bangladesh were cruising towards victory and their openers were doing a commendable job out in the middle. Sarkar was approaching his second ODI century and Iqbal did reasonably well in giving him most of the strike in order to achieve the milestone as the target was not far away. But Sarkar ended up chipping a flighted delivery from Imran Tahir to Hashim Amla at short cover and fell 10 runs short of a ton.
Sarkar missed out on a much-deserved century but had done his job. Bangladesh were just 16 runs away from an emphatic win and were about to inscribe their name in history. With the help of 13 boundaries and a solitary six, Sarkar smashed 90 off 75 deliveries. Bangladesh went on to win the game by nine wickets and sealed the three-match series.
They not only won the game but dominated it. With this win, they registered their first ever bilateral ODI series win over South Africa. This was also their fourth back-to-back ODI series win at home and were looking unstoppable.
Sarkar was not only adjudged as the Player of the Match but also the Player of the series for his prolific run with the bat. In the entire series, Sarkar garnered 205 runs at an impressive average of 102.50 and a blistering strike-rate of 113.25.
On this win, Sarkar was quoted in a report from ESPN Cricinfo saying, “There is happiness but I am feeling a little bad as I could not finish the game by being not out. It isn’t about the century, but it would have been great to win by 10 wickets. Hundreds will come later but a win by that margin would have been great.”
It was a big moment for Bangladesh cricket as they managed to beat three big teams on a trot. And Sarkar played a good hand at the top.