May 3, 2003

Bangladesh in disarray

The Wisden Bulletin by Raja M

Bangladesh teetered on the brink of yet another innings defeat, after collapsing in the morning session for 102. They fought better after following on, but at the end of the third day's play, still needed 24 runs to make South Africa bat again, with just two wickets in hand. They lost 18 wickets in a day that epitomized their fragility perfectly.

South Africa repeatedly snapped promising partnerships to ensure that Bangladesh's cause stayed hopeless. Six Bangladesh batsmen went past 20 in the second innings; none had the temperament or maturity to consolidate on their start and play a long innings.

It was similar to the first innings, when Bangladesh lost ten wickets in the morning session. Mehrab Hossain and Javed Omar put on 22 for the first wicket - the highest stand of the innings - before Hossain (8) nicked a legcutter from Shaun Pollock for Graeme Smith to catch at second slip (22 for 1). It started a shameful procession, and the remaining nine wickets tumbled in a heap for 80 runs.

Pollock (2 for 21) and Makhaya Ntini (3 for 32) caused the early damage. Both bent their backs to squeeze some life out of a low and slow pitch, with Pollock in particular generating a surprising degree of seam movement in his six-over spell.

Putting up stiffer resistance after lunch, in the second innings, Hossain and Omar played sensibly for over an hour to put on 46 for the first wicket.

But with habitual carelessness, Bangladesh undid the good work. South Africa were gifted the first breakthrough when Hossain (16) was run out. Omar (27) departed without a run being added. The floodgates opened.

In a spin-dominated attack after tea, Robin Peterson struck in successive overs to hasten Bangladesh's end. He took the wickets of Habibul Bashar (33) and Khaled Mahmud (0), as Bangladesh lurched to 139 for 6.

Spurts of strokeplay enlivened the evening session but defied logic. Surviving the day increased the possibility of rain rescuing Bangladesh. But the urge to entertain took precedence over basic common sense.

Akram Khan's cameo was a typical example. He struck five hefty boundaries, including three successive fours off Ntini. But he reacted late to a short, vicious ball in the same over and could only fend it off to Jacques Rudolph at short leg (119 for 4). Khan (23) was Ntini's hundredth Test victim.

So, for only the fourth time in ten Tests since the start of 2002, Bangladesh reached the fourth day. They were helped by rain along the way, which remains their only hope now. But surely even the weather gods have their limits.