April 17, 2003

Rudolph anchors South Africa to victory

Bangladesh fought bravely, but were no match for a South African team that is gradually getting its act together. South Africa batted with commitment to put up 261 on a pitch that aided the spinners, and then restricted Bangladesh to just 168 to win by 93 runs.

Jacques Rudolph anchored the innings superbly with a well-paced 81, and late-innings impetus from Shaun Pollock and Neil McKenzie took South Africa past 250. Pollock and Makhaya Ntini, sharing the new ball for the first time in this tournament, then picked up some early wickets, and at 29 for 4 the game was effectively over. Alok Kapali made an elegant, combative 71, but the chase was never on.

South Africa looked a cohesive unit in the field today, playing with the grim professionalism that so epitomised them once upon a Cronje era. New captain Graeme Smith seemed to be learning his lessons as well - he finally allowed Pollock to share the new ball with Ntini, and the game was decided before their first spells were over.

Pollock was his usual accurate and parsimonious self, while Ntini obtained significant inswing and troubled the batsmen with his bounce and pace. The first two overs were maidens - and as the runs began to come, so did the wickets.

Mehrab Hossain (6) was caught behind off Ntini while flashing outside the off stump (16 for 1). Pollock then passed Allan Donald as South Africa's highest ODI wicket-taker, with two consecutive lbw decisions. Habibul Bashar (1) was hit high on the pad, and there appeared to be an inside edge as well (19 for 2). But Mohammad Ashraful (13) was trapped plumb inside his crease by an incoming ball (25 for 3).

Alan Dawson then struck with his first ball, as Akram Khan (3) reached out for a widish one and only managed to edge it through to Mark Boucher (29 for 4). But though the match was effectively over, Bangladesh didn't roll over and die.

Kapali and Khaled Mahmud added 55 in 80 balls, batting with resolve to prevent the kind of collapse that had become so routine in the World Cup. Mahmud (24) was caught behind off a wild slash off Andrew Hall in the 27th over, and Kapali then played a lone act. He played with immaculate technique with some lovely strokes before he slapped Hall's slower ball to Paul Adams at mid-off for 71 (157 for 9).

Earlier, Bangladesh had bowled with zest to make South Africa sweat while they batted. Herschelle Gibbs went early on for a duck, inside-edging Tapash Baisya onto his stumps (5 for 1). Baisya and Manjural Islam bowled with verve and made the batsmen play and miss, but they let the pressure slip with a fair amount of loose balls. While Rudolph looked tentative, Smith was severe on anything short or wide.

They added a solid 101 before Bangladesh broke through; as expected, it was spin which did the job. Sanwar Hossain had Smith stretching out to play him with minimal footwork, and getting another inside edge into the stumps (106 for 2). Smith's 67 was solid and well-constructed, and his dismissal was against the run of play.

At the other end Kapali bowled his legspinwith guile and variation, giving the ball a fair bit of air. But though Kapali picked up the wickets of Boeta Dippenaar and Boucher, Rudolph made sure there was no mid-innings collapse, milking the singles and pacing his innings well. He was finally caught behind off Sanwar for 81 in the 42nd over, trying to turn one down to third man (192 for 5), and it appeared that South Africa might be restricted to less than 250. But Pollock and McKenzie added 69 in the remaining time, with Pollock making 38 not out off 20 balls, with two huge sixes off the hapless Mahmud.

Bangladesh walked out of the tournament with more pride than they had brought into it, having displayed that they still had stomach for a fight. South Africa had a useful practice game, and their real tests still lie ahead.