Main features of Bangla's win over South Africa:
1) Mohammad Ashraful holding the Bangladesh innings together without losing his own tempo. All the points that follow have a few invisible linkbacks to this one, for every one of them resulted / drew from Ashraful’s nonchalant imposition of his exceptional skills on an unsuspecting big brother.
2) The stabilising 5th wicket partnership between Aftab & Ashraful: They encashed on the Dravid-ian tactic from the South African skipper to slip in his 5th bowler instead of putting a full stop to the struggling Bangladeshis. The pair did the crucial job of stitching a steadily paced partnership in reaching the 40th over with 5 or more wickets in hand.
3) Mortaza’s tide-turning assault in the end overs: The more I see of this energetic young man the more I am impressed about him. He grabs every opportunity to make an impact in the game. He is there with the new ball making vital breaktroughs like his identically featured bowling idol. He is there to let the bowlers smell his intent of hitting a few big ones late in the innings whenever he has an outing at the crease with a bat. In between he is also there to make diving stops and cut off runs inside the circle as well as near the boundary.
4) South African batting woes against certain left arm spinners – check out on the ODI success of Jayasuriya & Sunil Joshi against them while Oz tormenter Vettori struggles. Rafique has not been too impressive against Proteans until yesterday but then that is what a cocky performance by a standout player does to people who know how to stand up and be counted.
5) The well-known monotony of South African attack and lack of slower balls / bowlers in their ranks makes them a lesser team in conditions unhelpful to seam & swing bowling. Only Nel seemed capable of bowling decent yorkers and slower balls. Pollock’s loss of sting in the major event has landed him a new role - of delaying middle overs acceleration. On current form South Africa need both Nel and Hall in the final overs; and other teams will be watching how they solve that dilemma.
6) Propensity of South African batting (and, to a lesser extent, bowling) to choke in unlikely circumstances.
We can discuss a little more on that last point. Of late Graeme Smith’s men show a remarkably wobbly streak once a few early wickets are taken. The South African top order seldom looks prepared for great blows from lesser teams. Perhaps this team bats well against the Aussies because they expect to get in bad situations against that opposition. But then Aussies have not taken early wickets against them in their last two matches – that record breaking one at Wnderers and their WC group league match last month.
While other big teams manage to stem the rot in the lower middle order after starting badly, the South African middle order often freezes upon failure of plan A. Most South African collapses generally penetrate right down to the tail. That tail is the most formidable of all – housing South African allrounders Boucher, Pollock and Hall.
Some teams have often let up or faltered in resources after bagging the first six or seven South African wickets and payed dearly. The 3rd Ind-RSA ODI at their backyard in end 2006 is a classic example. South Africa were six down for 76 even then but Indians dropped Justin Kemp twice before he reached 10 and then it all went out of hand. South Africa, batting first, reached 274 then and won by 106 runs. India never recovered and where washed out in the series.
But Shakib Al Hasan and his left arm slow mates never let off the pressure yesterday even when they were not picking wickets. When Pollock was stitching together a typical comeback partnership for the 7th wicket with Boucher, a direct hit from Tamim Iqbal put paid to South African hopes of not facing a desperate struggle to qualify for the semis.
Earlier in the tournament Bangladesh had opened up the group league matches of Group B by defeating India. Yesterday they did enough to bring global cricket audiences back to their tellies to follow Super Eights by re-igniting semi final hopes of a few other sides not excluding the home team.
Now we hope Ireland catches a big fish to turn this final phase of the Super Eights into the bitter dogfight no one expected it to be when Vaughan and Jayawardene went out for the toss on Wednesday.