The Bangladesh cricket team don’t see themselves as paper tigers, so for captain Mashrafe Mortaza, beating South Africa by 21 runs wasn’t an upset – just a result. No one can argue, however, that it was the World Cup’s most exciting result so far.
After its opening fixtures delivered a run of one-sided games, the tournament got its first nerve-jangler when Bangladesh set Faf du Plessis’s men a World Cup record run-chase to win. By the end, the only thing in danger of being broken was du Plessis’s spirit. “I’m not even going to try and make excuses,” said the captain, looking grim, as he contemplated a side that could now add bowler Lungi Ngidi to its list of injured team members. “All facets of our game are not firing at the moment. To blame bad luck is not an option for me.”
Meanwhile Bangladesh – for whom this was the fourth win in 21 ODIs against South Africa – could celebrate a host of new records. Their 330 total was their highest ever in an ODI, as was Shakib al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim’s 142-run run-a-ball partnership. And while that contribution was vital to their victory, there were important contributions throughout the innings, and all six bowlers played their part in strangling the South African reply. “That’s the team we are I think,” said Mortaza. “When we’ve contributed each and every one, mostly we win.”
Like the politician he is, Mashrafe Mortaza MP had done an excellent job of lowering expectations before the game. The Bangladesh fans weren’t fooled, though. From the moment the anthems rang out – and boy, when South Africa play Bangladesh, do you get a long musical programme – they were cheering every shot.
This was the same wicket South Africa played England on two days earlier and there may have been some déjà vu for their bowlers, who found plenty of life in the pitch, but still saw the ball disappear regularly to the boundary. The Bangladesh batsmen proved utterly unintimidated, and well they might: Tamim Iqbal came into this game with a batting average of 111.50 at the Oval, although it was his opening partner Soumya Sarkar who set the tone. Soumya’s Instagram account proves that he’s a man who likes to look sharp, and so did his identical, consecutive pull shots off Ngidi.
Shakib and Mushfiqur came together in the 12th over, when Soumya was out looping a mistimed hook to Quinton de Kock, who threw himself forward like a dolphin catching a wave. Short-pitched bowling has been the weapon of choice in the World Cup so far, but after Shakib survived a couple of early scares – including a shaky hook shot off Chris Morris that fell safely between two boundary fielders – this pair proved more than a match for it. The diminutive Mushfiqur – all of 5ft 2in – cut Andile Phehlukwayo for four to bring up his 50, and finished the shot with his feet several inches off the ground.
With a hamstring strain forcing Ngidi off the field after a four-over spell, du Plessis had to fall back on the part-time offbreaks of Aidan Markram (11 overs in 20 previous ODIs). A late flurry of wickets brought only brief respite before Mahmudullah thumped a fiery and unbeaten 46 off 33 balls in the final overs.
The same luckless spirit infused South Africa’s batting. Quentin de Kock was dropped by Mushfiqur off Mehidy Hasan, only to set off for a stuttering single while the wicketkeeper retrieved the ball and threw down his stumps. Captain du Plessis brought up his 50 with a six, then skipped down the pitch and missed a flighted delivery from Mehidy the moment Mortaza brought him back on.
Bangladesh weren’t flawless in the field – one of Shakib’s overs included two missed chances and an overthrow – but, unlike the opposition, they seemed to be enjoying the experience. At one stage, every offside fielder from gully to mid-off converged on Mustafizur at the end of his follow through, just to gee him up. No team had ever scored 330 in the first innings of a WC game and lost and South Africa were always behind the rate.
Markram, David Miller (brought in for Hashim Amla, who is still feeling some symptoms from his hit on the head from Jofra Archer) and Rassie van der Dussen were all out trying to locate the accelerator. But it was only when Duminy fell, with 43 runs still needed from the final three overs, that the result felt certain.
In the wake of the England game, Faf du Plessis had made all the right noises about his men feeling relaxed about the result. An opening defeat to the hosts (and favourites) was no big deal in a tournament this long. This time, there was no pretence at insouciance. “Plan A has gone,” he said. “Now it’s reshuffling all our cards and seeing how we can deal with it.” Did he still think his team could be a World Cup contender? “I have to believe that. I won’t be South African if I say no.”