How often do we witness as many as 428 runs being scored on the first day of a Test match? When South Africa ended Day 1 with 428 runs on the board and seven wickets to spare, it did speak about South Africa’s dominance with the bat, but also spoke a lot about Bangladesh’s ineffectiveness with the ball. Numerous records were scripted by the time Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla took the long walk back to the pavilion at stumps.
After a disheartening campaign at Potchefstroom, where Bangladesh lost the battle by 333 runs, the onus of making a comeback was on the visitors. They were very unfortunate to not have Tammi Iqbal for the second game, which only added to the pressure. Bangladesh made four changes in the side for the do-or-die second Test at Bloemfontein, out of which one change was forced. Bangladesh once again got it right at the toss and opted to bowl.
First of all, this South African side is without the services of AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel. This is also the first occasion when South Africa were playing a Test match without any of Steyn Morkel and Philander in the playing XI. But South African batsmen have done well to lay a solid foundation and give enough breathing space to their bowlers.
Mushfiqur was misled by the tinge of grass on the surface, expecting it to be a bowling-friendly one, which pushed him to bowl first. The decision to field first at Potchefstroom didn’t turn out to be a productive one and it made sense for Bangladesh to bat first here. The pitch had nothing for the bowlers and South Africa dominated all three sessions. Bangladesh seemed to have misread the pitch and made a similar mistake of bowling first.
Speaking about the wicket, Mushfiqur was quoted in a report from The Daily Star saying, “I thought it was a good wicket to bowl on but our bowlers didn’t capitalise. We leaked a lot of runs in the first session. When it was up, they knocked the ball straight down the ground.”
Yes, the bowlers were certainly not up to the mark, but so was captaincy. Also, batting in the fourth innings is always difficult in Test cricket if the conditions deteriorate. Bangladesh were bowled out for 90 in the first Test, then why would they want to bat again in the fourth innings here? Yes, South Africa are favourites, but Bangladesh would have given themselves a solid chance by getting runs on the board and put pressure on the hosts. And, with Morkel out of this contest, South Africa are fielding a relatively inexperienced bowling attack, which could have played in Bangladesh’s favour.
One of the secrets behind successful Test captains have been their attacking approach and strategy. Constantly eyeing for wickets and setting the field accordingly, motivates the bowler and helps to capitalise on half chances. In the second session, Bangladeshi pacers showed some good intent but needed to be backed by their captain. As South Africa were already on the front foot, Mushfiqur opted to set defensive fields rather than going for the kill.
South African skipper had completely contrasting opinion about the wicket. Du Plessis spoke about his intention of batting first on this surface, in fact, he intended of doing so nine out of ten times. Du Plessis said, “Nine times out of 10 you will bat first. It is a very normal cricket wicket.”
South Africa had a pair of openers, that were just a Test old. Bangladesh made some serious tactical errors and the bowlers barring Mustafizur Rahman were pretty ordinary. South African batsmen had no trouble in keeping the scoreboard ticking and made utmost use of the conditions. The pitch had a slight green covering, but Bangladeshi seamers were unable to exploit it. Also, the strategy was rather surprising. Mushfiqur had two slips at the start and a leg slip, which in a way compelled Mustafizur to bowl the stump line.
Although replacing Mustafizur was justified as he had a slight niggle, but why was Subashis Roy replaced by a part-timer within six overs? One needs to show a lot of faith to get the best out of a bowler. Though Subashis leaked runs, but a longer-spell would have helped him find his rhythm.
South African batsmen scored at a brisk rate and added more agony on Bangladeshi bowlers. Bangladesh doesn’t have a penetrative bowling attack, which could have created trouble the South African batsmen. Their bowlers needed to demonstrate more discipline and accuracy, which was only shown by Mustafiz when he returned to put in the hard yards.
By Lunch, South Africa had 126 runs on the board in 29 overs and by Tea, the tally increased to 256 for one. Bangladesh were in desperate need of a wicket. Both the South African openers went on to score their respective centuries. Aiden Markram scored his first Test ton while Elgar became the first South African to have 1000 Test runs under his belt in a calendar year since 2012.
Bangladeshi seamers didn’t pose any threat as South African openers scored cleanly. After putting up an emphatic opening stand of 243, Dean Elgar was dismissed for 113 while Markram continued his assault. Hashim Amla walked in and the run-scoring continued.
Bangladesh showed sparks of brilliance post Tea and bowled to a plan. They bowled well and brought short deliveries into play, which restricted the run flow for a while. They bowled to the field and Rubel was outstanding in setting up Markram. After setting up the batsman with a barrage of short deliveries, Rubel surprised Markram with a lethal in-swinging yorker. Temba Bavuma fell early, but Amla continued scoring at a good pace from the other end.
South Africa soon gained control of the proceedings with Amla and Du Plessis in command. At stumps, Amla remained unbeaten on 89 off 99 deliveries, while Du Plessis had 62 runs under his belt. And one can expect Day 2 to be no different for South Africa with some power-hitters in the line-up.
South Africa are all set for a massive first innings total at Bloemfontein. Perhaps, there is a possibility of Bangladesh not getting to bowl again in the Test. South Africa are on course to achieve 600 above total, which will only put pressure on Bangladesh. Both, Amla and Du Plessis will have to start all over again when play resumes on Day 2. Bangladeshi bowlers need to showcase the kind of rhythm they did for a brief period after Tea for a while, in the morning session of Day 2. Subashis Roy had a couple of scalps from Day 1, but need to do a lot more. Mustafizur and Rubel should look to use the new ball to good effect and Mushfiqur needs to back his bowlers with an attacking field.
Without Tamim Iqbal, Bangladesh already have a task in hand with the bat. If their bowlers manage to make early in roads in South Africa’s batting on Day 2, it will only ease off the pressure from the batting unit.