April 26, 2003

Rudolph double century puts South Africa on course for innings win

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Jacques Rudolph's double-century on debut - and a record-breaking third-wicket stand of 429 with Boeta Dippenaar - may have garnered all the attention worldwide, but there was much to admire about Bangladesh's response. After a helter-skelter morning session that saw Rudolph and Dippenaar add 106 in 95 minutes before the declaration came, Bangladesh's much-maligned batsmen emerged needing 297 merely to stave off the ignominy of innings defeat. That they finished the day at 185 for 5 says much about the courage and application of Habibul Bashar and Javed Omar, who took full toll of an attack that, Shaun Pollock apart, was devoid of inspiration.

In keeping with their usually abysmal displays, Bangladesh had started poorly, losing Mehrab Hossain - leg-before to Pollock - with the scoreboard showing just seven. Graeme Smith may have erred by handing the new ball to Charl Willoughby but once Makhaya Ntini and Pollock settled into a nice rhythm, run-scoring became devilishly difficult.

Only 16 came from the first 14 overs, with barely a shot played in anger, but once Allan Dawson and Willoughby replaced the premier strike-force, Bashar and Omar brushed off the shackles.

Bashar had pulled both Pollock and Ntini to the fence when they dropped short, and Dawson's efforts to entice a mistake outside off stump only result in a succession of boundaries, including one that brushed second slip's fingertips.

Omar started in limpet mode but Willoughby's generous line-and-length were gratefully utilised to crash balls through the off side. The partnership gathered momentum in the overs preceding tea, and the introduction of Paul Adams after the break only saw more strokes being unveiled.

The partnership got to 131 - a record for Bangladesh - before Pollock sent Bashar packing. He had batted throughout in a manner befitting his name, and an ill-directed bouncer was needlessly edged through to Mark Boucher behind the stumps (138 for 2). Bashar made 75 from just 108 balls.

Omar nudged, pushed and drove his way to 72, before being undone by a nasty bouncer from Ntini. Bowled from round the wicket, it reared up and could only be fended behind (173 for 3).

That exposed the brittle middle-order and South Africa duly capitalised, as Adams had Alok Kapali caught behind (183 for 4) and Mohammad Salim leg-before (185 for 5). In the final hour, South Africa managed to wrest back the initiative that had been taken by Bashar and Omar in mid-afternoon.

The first session had belonged to Rudolph, who became only the fifth batsman (Robert Foster, Lawrence Rowe, Matthew Sinclair and Brendon Kuruppu being the others) to score a double-hundred in his first Test innings. His magnificent 222 not out, ably supported by Dippenaar - who motored along to 178 from his overnight score of 131 - turned the match on its head, after Bangladesh had shown signs of fight on the opening day.

When the batsmen came out to bat in very overcast conditions, the intent was unmistakable. Rudolph glanced a wide delivery for four, while Dippenaar got going with a couple of crunching cut shots.

The only blip was a nasty bouncer from Mashrafe Mortaza, which struck Rudolph just below the ear. But he was up on his feet soon enough and a fluent cover-drive and nudged single brought up a memorable double-century. He celebrated with some glorious strokes, ending the innings with a reverse-swept four and a stinging straight six off Kapali.

Dippenaar was caught at mid-off off a no-ball early on, but he rode his luck to play some punishing pull strokes and drives. When Enamul Haque came on, he slogged him down to deep midwicket, where the fielder caught the ball ... with one foot on the fence.

It was that sort of morning for Bangladesh, and despite the improved showing later, defeat is looking increasingly inevitable. As for South Africa, they can trace their revival to two talented greenhorns, yet to grow fat on their achievements.