April 24, 2003

Adams five-for puts South Africa on top

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In the end, it was a disappointingly typical first day of a Bangladesh Test match. Bangladesh were bowled out for 173, after which South Africa eased to 83 for 2, on course for an easy victory. But there was more to the day than just that.

At one point, Bangladesh were more than just holding their own - they were on top. Habibul Bashar and Javed Omar had added 83 runs for the second wicket, and Bangladesh were headed towards 100 for the loss of just one wicket. The pitch offered no assistance to South Africa's bowlers, and the momentum had been seized by Bangladesh.

But then the floodgates opened at Chittagong. Omar and Bashar were out within minutes of each other, and the centre did not hold. Paul Adams bowled superbly to take 5 for 37, and Bangladesh stuttered to 173. Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs lost their wickets displaying unnecessary aggression, but South Africa were still on top when the day wound down.

Bangladesh's familiar collapse in the afternoon had been preceded by both grim resolve and fiesty counter-attack, in equal measure, in the morning. Khaled Mahmud had opted to bat first on a flat, slow-paced pitch, and South Africa had struck early. Mehrab Hossain flashed outside off to Shaun Pollock, getting a regulation outside edge through to Mark Boucher (14 for 1).

But there wasn't much in the pitch for the fast bowlers, and patience was the need of the hour. Bashar and Omar displayed that in spades, seeing off a hostile spell from Makhaya Ntini, who tested both batsmen with short-pitched bowling. The variable bounce of the pitch made a few balls stay low and skid through, but Ntini actually got a few to snort up off a good length.

Both batsmen played a compact game, letting many balls go past the off stump. Their circumspection was not carried to an extreme, though, and once they got their eye in, both batsmen played positively.

Bashar's driving square of the wicket and through cover was a delight. He singled out Charl Willoughby for special treatment, smacking him for four fours in three overs before lunch. He began the post-lunch session with a classy pull of Ntini, then drove Pollock to the cover boundary to bring up his half-century, then pulled Ntini for four again.

But the Bangladesh supporters soon got a respite from pinching themselves in disbelief. Omar, whose 28 off 106 balls was a lesson to his team-mates in application, was adjudged lbw to Alan Dawson in the 32nd over of the game (97 for 2).

Bashar, on 60, slashed Dawson to Herschelle Gibbs at point (100 for 3). Akram Khan, after a doughty 13 off 53 balls, played across the line to Paul Adams and was caught at silly point by Jacques Rudolph (124 for 4). Alok Kapali was then caught behind for a duck, trying to cut Adams but only managing to edge the ball (124 for 5).

Mohammad Ashraful (12 off 54) pulled the first ball after tea from Adams to Boeta Dippenaar at midwicket, and Bangladesh were 126 for 6. Some lusty slogging from Mashrafe Mortaza (20 off 15) and his 26-run last-wicket partnership with Mohammad Salim (16 not out) took Bangladesh past 150, but it was more desperation than calculated assault.

Mortaza was a mess with the new ball when South Africa walked out to bat. He bowled four no-balls in his first over, and conceded 28 runs in his first two overs. Gibbs and Smith obliged the hit-me balls that Mortaza bowled, and South Africa were off to a flyer.

Smith and Gibbs both threw their wickets away needlessly, though. Smith (16) flashed at a ball outside off from Tapash Baisya, and Salim took a good diving catch to his left (38 for 1). Gibbs, one ball after a mishit slog off Mortaza landed safely in no-man's zone, mishit another slog that Salim held on to easily.

Dippenaar and Jacques Rudolph saw off the rest of the day easily, and looked forward, no doubt, to more easy runs the next day. Bangladesh mused on what it meant to win the first session of a Test match - nothing at all.