May 1, 2003

South Africa wrest control

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Bangladesh had South Africa on the mat early on, but the absence of another frontline slow bowler to back up Mohammad Rafique - who bowled beautifully to finish with 4 for 59 - cost them dear as South Africa recovered from the worrisome total of 63 for 4 to finish the first day of the second Test at 264 for 6.

Jacques Rudolph - who followed up a magnificent unbeaten 222 in the first Test with 71 here - and Mark Boucher engineered the revival, and after both men were dismissed, Shaun Pollock and Robin Peterson ensured that it was the tourists who ended the day with the bigger smiles on their faces.

Bangladesh had two real windows of opportunity. When Rafique dismissed Neil McKenzie for just 7, with the scoreboard showing just 63 runs, there was a real buzz inside the stadium. That was quieted by Rudolph and Boucher, though the latter would have departed for just 7 if Mohammad Salim, the wicketkeeper, hadn't messed up a stumping chance off Alok Kapali.

They glimpsed better times again when Rudolph was dismissed, giving Mohammad Ashraful the charge and being stumped by a mile (170 for 5). But Pollock and Boucher held firm until Rafique got one to nip under Boucher's cut shot to bowl him (219 for 6). Boucher made 71, playing some handsome strokes through the covers.

It could have been so different but for Bangladesh deciding to go in with just three specialist bowlers, Rafique and the new-ball pairing off Mashrafe Mortaza and Tapash Baisya. But take nothing away from Rudolph, who was as unflustered and composed as he had been on his debut. His shot selection was spot-on, and even when playing risky strokes like the paddle-sweep, he made sure his pad was outside the line of the stumps.

The pitch was slow, full of cracks, and some deliveries shot through at shin height, but you wouldn't have known it the way he batted. The upright cover-drives were easy on the eye, while the superb drives down the ground - between the bowler and mid-on - earned muted gasps of admiration from the locals.

Rudolph's efforts also wrested the initiative after Rafique had masterminded South Africa's early decline. He had picked up Herschelle Gibbs and Boeta Dippenaar before lunch, and came out after the break to snare McKenzie.

The initial phase of the South African innings was especially tortuous, with both Baisya and Mortaza showing a lot more discipline and control than they had done at Chittagong.

Gibbs was uncharacteristically subdued and with the scoreboard almost in a state of suspended animation, Smith lost patience as the first hour drew to a close. He had eked out 15, from 42 balls, when Baisya tempted him with a short one. Smith pulled it, and pulled it well, straight to Ashraful at square leg (30 for 1).

Rudolph came in and was off the mark with a delicate glance off his pads for four. When he then leant back to crash another delivery through the off side, you sensed Bangladesh's morning might get worse.

But the doubters had reckoned without Rafique. Drafted into the side in place of Enamul Haque, the left-arm spinner came on to bowl in the 18th over. It took him less than three overs to make an impact on a surface that was clearly spin-friendly. Gibbs, who had sleepwalked his way to 21 (65 balls), charged down the track in an attempt to clear the long-on fence, but only found Baisya at mid-on (49 for 2).

It got much worse for South Africa on the stroke of lunch, when Dippenaar was given out, caught off bat and pad by Javed Omar at silly point, giving Rafique a second wicket (51 for 3). Suddenly, it wasn't Bangladesh who were searching for a May Day distress signal.

Khaled Mahmud, the captain, and his boys however showed plenty of patience and grit when it mattered, and for once, it was the fancied team that had their backs to the proverbial wall. But once again, Bangladesh couldn't finish what they started. Something tells you that they'll live to regret that deeply tomorrow, on a pitch that's already more worn than a 50-year-old library book.