For years, the cricketing World have watched Bangladesh struggled to compete against the better cricketing teams, losing wickets in clusters and embarrassing fans with strings of low totals. The first seeds of change emerged when an Ashraful-led chase saw them beat Australia in an ODI match.
In the 2015 ODI World Cup in Australia, they reached the quarter-finals before losing to India and this was followed up by home dominance, a clear sign of teams growing in strength and stature. They beat England, Sri Lanka and Australia in the past few months in Test cricket and it seemed like Bangladesh cricket had finally turned a corner.
One felt pity that Bangladesh weren’t given an opportunity to compete in tough overseas conditions (Australia, England and South Africa) since 2010. However, all of that vanished the moment they crumbled like a pack of cards at Potchefstroom after making some weird choices on the field. Yet, like every team, you felt Bangladesh needed a second chance.
That second chance came at Bloemfontein, on a green-tinged pitch where they opted to go with three seamers and one spinner, although none of their quicker men were in the top 50 wicket-takers chart since 2013. But, this was a chance at redemption. When Mushfiqur Rahim won the toss and opted to bowl first, a strange choice again but a bold one nevertheless, there seemed to be a renewed vigour behind the decision.
That notion was thrown to the winds the moment Rahim switched bowlers at a quicker pace than Kagiso Rabada’s deliveries. For a moment the stunned fans thought that their beloved skipper had mistaken the match for a limited-overs match.
The redemption never came for the bowlers either as four South African batsmen scored hundreds and the hosts raced to 573/4. Bangladesh had all but lost the initial battle but there seemed to be a glimmer of hope for them since their batsmen had scored 595 against a strong attack in New Zealand in January this year.
Watching cricket replays! What a joke. Excuse of a team #Bangladesh
Nothing great about batting, just pathetic bowling!
— John Haigh (@good_heavens00) October 7, 2017
But there were two senior pros missing from that day of glory – Tamim Iqbal and Shakib-al-Hasan. Tamim’s replacement, Soumya Sarkar, missed a leg-side flick from Kagiso Rabada to be cleaned up and leave Bangladesh at 13/1. Duanne Olivier then bounced out Mominul Haque, off an inside edge and you could literally smell a collapse.
When their clueless skipper was sent back by a sensational catch by Temba Bavuma at gully, the South African magic was beginning to work. Bangladesh, though, had little magic up their sleeve, except Liton Das, who resisted everything thrown at him and counter-attacked with the fury of a defeated lion.
When Rabada sent Imrul Kayes and Sabbir Rahman packing in consecutive overs to leave the visitor’s tottering at 65/6, Bangladesh were all but out of the contest. Few would have anticipated the Tigers of the sub-continent turning into such meek cats on a juicy surface against a virtual second string South African bowling attack.
“A lot of batsmen got in but then made little mistakes so they would get out when set,” Mominul had said after the first Test. “We want to make sure we don’t do that next time. On this type of batting track, making 300 should not make us happy, we should be getting 400 or 500.”
— Zunaid Foundation (@ZunaidFund) October 7, 2017
But at least they managed to get starts at Potchefstroom. Here, they folded without even getting set at the crease. Contrary to the hype generated before the Test, the ball wasn’t swinging around in an unplayable manner. Rabada, Olivier and Parnell, although consistent, weren’t bowling impossible lengths or magic deliveries. There was little to no explanation for Bangladesh’s toothless batting.
Save for Liton Das’ fighting 70 off 77 balls, none of their batsmen displayed the maturity, temperament and composure to grit it out on a surface that was slightly tilted towards the quicker men. That said, it was by no means a wicket where your top order would collapse to 65/6. After all four of South Africa’s top order had scored hundreds on this very track just a day ago.
While the Tigers remain a formidable force on home tracks, they need to show that they can at least fight and draw games, if not win in conditions alien to them. While they roar and celebrate like there is no tomorrow each time they win games, Bangladesh need to remember that champions are made of steely resilience. They have shown none of that on this tour so far despite all the big talk before the series.