TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
SHAKIB Al Hasan and Liton Das delivered a masterclass in Chittagong on Thursday, and to their credit SA’s batsmen got off their No. 1 pedestal and learnt from the Bangladeshis.
But whether the visitors have righted their ship well enough to push for victory on the last two days of a match that could yet be decided by rain remains unclear.
As Simon Harmer said, “We can’t look too far ahead in terms of target. Our focus is on the first session (this) morning. We’ve lost a lot of time to bad light so we need to make sure we set ourselves a good base.”
At stumps on Thursday SA were 61/0, a deficit of 17. That was after ending Bangladesh’s first innings at 326 – the home side’s highest total in their nine tests against SA and the only time they have reached 300 against them.
The 78-run lead Bangladesh took into the second innings marked the first time they have cracked a first-innings nod over SA and was their biggest lead in any test batting second.
It took SA 49.1 overs and cost them 147 runs to earn the six remaining wickets they needed to get back to the batting crease. Eighty-two of those runs flew of that bats of Shakib and Liton in the most watchable 29.1 overs of a dour match.
On Tuesday SA – besides the enterprising Temba Bavuma – fritted away the advantage of batting first by neither using their feet nor rotating the strike well enough to prevent the bowlers from gaining a stranglehold.
The exciting left-arm pacemen Mustafizur Rahman and Shakib’s experience aside, Bangladesh’s attack is weak. They are not fast. They do not turn the ball sharply. They are not swing merchants. But they are able to hit the spot consistently.
Let them do so and, as SA discovered in their first innings of 248, they will sap the life out of most batting line-ups.
On Thursday Shakib and Liton provided SA with the antidote to that boring but effective approach by taking on the bowling with everything at their disposal – aggression, creativity, footwork, and the belief that they could hit hard whatever came at them.
“If you are not going to bowl teams out you don’t want them scoring at a high runrate and they did that phenomenally well,” Harmer said.
But the Bangladeshis’ attempts to hammer Harmer with special relish backfired. Not only did the off-spinner keep the runs he conceded in the 11 overs he bowled during the partnership down a respectable 26, he broke the stand when Shakib hoiked a catch to midwicket to go for 47.
Then, having been blitzed for three fours and a six by Mohammad Shahid, Harmer had Liton removed for a maiden 50 by Quinton de Kock, who caught the looping ball a moment before he crashed into the stumps.
De Kock’s spectacular grab helped SA wrap up the innings in a slide of four wickets for 15 runs. Harmer’s reward for bowling 35 overs was a return of 3/105.
Dale Steyn, listless on Wednesday, found his rock ’n roll range and finished with 3/78.
Having been shown what to do by Shakib and Liton, Stiaan van Zyl and Dean Elgar duly got on and did it. At least, in a fashion tempered with the discipline opening batsmen must bring to the wicket.
They used their feet. They rotated the strike. They did not allow terms to be dictated. And, at stumps, SA could look back on their best day’s work in the match.