Bangladesh make the wrong call – again

Pretoria News Weekend - - SPORT&RACING - STU­ART HESS

BLOEM­FONTEIN: At the end of the sixth over Mush­fiqur Rahim leant down to pick up the ball as it nes­tled against the bound­ary cush­ion at long-off – he let out a sigh and tossed it back to a team­mate...a long and painful day was just be­gin­ning.

The bowler of that sixth over was Soumya Sarkar, the fourth bowler Mush­fiqur had em­ployed by that stage of the South African in­nings. The bound­ary, an easy off-drive by Dean El­gar was the sixth that had been struck to that point. Bangladesh had won the toss – again. Mush­fiqur had cho­sen to bowl – again. It was the wrong de­ci­sion – again.

Choos­ing to bowl was a de­ci­sion based on fear, which makes it hard to rec­on­cile this Bangladesh side with the one that’s been so pow­er­ful at home re­cently. In both Tests Mush­fiqur has based his de­ci­sion to bowl on the rep­u­ta­tion of South African pitches, not the pitches that have been pre­sented to him here and in Potchef­stroom.

That rep­u­ta­tion is based on pace and bounce and it is a scary one for play­ers from the sub-con­ti­nent. The two pitches used in this se­ries have had nei­ther pace nor bounce.

Two weeks ago the Knights and Co­bras split six hun­dreds and scored over 1000 runs in two in­nings at this ground. Even though the Proteas had asked for ex­tra grass to be left on this sur­face, by the time Mush­fiqur and his coun­ter­part Faf du Plessis were present for the toss, it was more brown than green. “Nine times out of 10 you will bat first,” said Du Plessis af­ter his side had been in­serted. “It is a very nor­mal cricket wicket.”

It meant his very young at­tack, led by 22-year-old Kag­iso Rabada, could put their feet up for the day. It meant his young open­ing bats­man, play­ing just his sec­ond Test, had an op­por­tu­nity to make up for miss­ing out on a first Test cen­tury on his de­but. It meant a lot of pain for Mush­fiqur and his bowlers.

And while Mush­fiqur de­serves ad­mon­ish­ment for erring again at the toss, his bowlers cer­tainly didn’t help their cap­tain try and atone for that er­ror. With the ex­cep­tion of Mustafizur Rah­man and later Rubel Hos­sain, Bangladesh’s bowl­ing was aw­ful. Tai­jul Is­lam, the lef­tarm spin­ner of­fered no con­trol, in con­trast he of­fered lots of bound­ary balls – 14 came off his bowl­ing. Shub­hashis Roy’s first over was a maiden, his sec­ond went for 15 and he was out of the at­tack. By the time stumps were drawn Mush­fiqur had used eight bowlers – they had con­ceded 58 bound­aries.

The only pres­sure for El­gar and Markram was to avoid get­ting out to this poor ar­ray. El­gar, in top form and con­fi­dent feasted, scor­ing the fastest half-cen­tury of his ca­reer and turn­ing it into the fastest hun­dred of his ca­reer.

Markram was more cir­cum­spect. Per­haps he was sur­prised at how poor Bangladesh bowled – ‘Test cricket was sup­posed to hard’ ev­ery ex­pert would have told him. And to be fair it will be hard, but when it’s as easy as it was, it’s best you cash in.

And Markram did just that, reg­is­ter­ing that maiden Test cen­tury, rais­ing both arms and soak­ing up the ap­plause from his team­mates.

The open­ing pair have pro­duced back-to-back cen­tury stands, a con­fi­dence booster the team so des­per­ately needed af­ter a dif­fi­cult 2017 in that de- part­ment.

Bangladesh briefly pulled them­selves to­gether be­fore tea when Mush­fiqur called on his quicks to utilise the bouncer. El­gar should have been caught by the wick­et­keeper on 110, he was caught at deep fine leg af­ter mak­ing 113 – a more flu­ent in­nings than he’s ac­cus­tomed to play­ing.

Markram fell to the ball of the day from Ro­bel for 143 and when Temba Bavuma gifted his wicket to Sub­hashis for seven, South Africa had lost 45/3 in eight overs.

Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis snuffed out Bangladesh’s fight­back with a 140-run stand.

It was the sec­ond high­est num­ber of runs scored on the first day of a Test by South Africa, bet­tered only by the 445 scored in the 2003 New Year’s Test against Pak­istan at New­lands.

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