It seemed like Bangladesh had finally arrived. Tamim Iqbal and Mominul Haque survived a searing spell from Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel early on Day 3 to raise Bangladesh’s hopes. The Tigers do not exactly live up to that name outside the sub-continent usually.
But today, they showed dogged defiance combined with positive intent, getting behind the line of the ball quite well, to survive 11 overs of extreme pace from two top quality fast bowlers. Left-handers do not survive Rabada yorkers. Ask Nic Maddinson or Dawid Malan. But Tamim did.
Just when it looked like the wide-eyed cat was slowly growing in stature to its full-grown beastly form, Tamim nicked an innocuous, wayward, leg-side delivery from Andile Phehlukwayo through to de Kock to gift South Africa their first wicket of the day.
The experienced Tamim had wasted a golden opportunity after settling himself down on a batting beauty. It turned to be the story of the entire Bangladesh innings.
Following Tamim, Mahmudullah and Mominul Haque stitched together a 69 run partnership, hardly worth its weight in gold but studded with a promise that Bangladesh have rarely shown in this part of the World. There were the sturdy, well-judged defensive strokes and some attractive, sublime drives and wristy flicks.
However, just when it looked like Bangladesh’s resurrection was on, Mominul edged the relentless Keshav Maharaj straight to forward short-leg. The young batsman would have kept out more than fifty better deliveries this innings. But one moment of madness is all it takes to take that long walk back. Mominul’s came with an extremely poor shot, at a time Bangladesh badly need him to carry on. At 77, yet another Bangladesh player had let go of an opportunity to grab the game by the scruff of its neck.
The trend continued right until the end of the innings. Post-Mominul’s wicket, Mahmudullah and Sabbir Rahman put on another 60+ stand, adorned with some admirable shots all around the wicket. They even disrupted the rhythm of Maharaj, something the likes of Australia, New Zealand and England couldn’t do. But temperament failed them yet again. Sabbir, on 30, knocked off his stumps with a purposeless dab at a shortish delivery from Duanne Olivier.
This was the first occasion where Bangladesh’s third, fourth, fifth and sixth wickets put on 50+ in a Test innings.
Sadly not one of them crossed 70. From no.3 to no.7, everyone managed to get starts and score 30+. Of those five, only two managed half-centuries and none managed more than 80.
If this was a worrying trend, the manner in which they folded at the fag of the innings was even more worrying. They lost their last four wickets for 16 runs, barely putting up any kind of fight when the second new ball was taken by South Africa.
The very first ball of that new ball, bowled by Morne Morkel, was chopped on by Mahmudullah. A deplorable run-out was followed by Mehidy Hasan getting a snorter from Rabada as the Bangladesh ship sunk even further. Maharaj nipped out the final wicket to end the most promising innings Bangladesh have put on outside the sub-continent in the past few years.
From 292/5 to 320 all out was not befitting for a team striving to be considered among the top nations of Test cricket. They might have bettered their highest score in the country (252 at East London in 2002) and shown the kind of spirit that would set a benchmark for new entrants into Test cricket, Afghanistan and Ireland.
But what they couldn’t do was play like Bangladesh could.
If they went back to their dressing rooms happy at stumps on day 3, it would disappoint the entire crowd of Bangladesh fans. They know what this team is capable of doing. They have the personnel, techniques and motivation to survive and succeed. But the mettle and temperament, sorely needed at this level of cricket, is largely absent.
That none of their mainstay batsmen pushed on and revealed to the younger group that there is light at the end of the tunnel is Bangladesh’s biggest loss. All of them walked individually, did their chores and went back. A collective effort, which often churns out Test victories out of nowhere, was completely missing.
None of their partnerships, despite all the promise, struck the panic button in the South African camp. Even when Sabbir Rahman and Mahmudullah took Maharaj out of the attack, the intent of pushing forward and pressuring the opposition never came.
Bangladesh are heading down the right route without a grain of doubt. But without instilling fight at least half the level of what Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram showed on day 1, Bangladesh will never reach the end of the road. Collapses like these are familiar for those accustomed to Bangladesh cricket. But right now, after a 100 Tests, the level of forgiveness may not be right up there like 15 years back, when they first toured the Rainbow Nation.