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November 22, 2008
At least it was relatively quick and painless. South Africa's pace attack demonstrated the vast gap in class, picking off Bangladesh's batsmen like skittles in an alley to complete a comprehensive innings-and-129-run victory in the first Test in Bloemfontein. Makhaya Ntini led the attack with great aggression and control while Dale Steyn, upon whom so much rests for South Africa's future firepower, cranked up the pace with his ninth five-wicket haul.
South Africa needed to get a hurry-on. Yesterday's poor weather held up their march, and the forecast for the fifth day was sufficiently dire to focus the bowlers' minds. Unfortunately, Bangladesh's resolve wasn't quite so determined, and nor was their ability to counter and cope with the pace. Plus ca change…
To Bangladesh's credit, however, they did survive the first half-hour without losing a wicket to give them hope of avoiding another defeat. In part, this was due to Morne Morkel's wayward opening spell - a concern with Australia looming on the horizon. Wicked, sniping deliveries that spat off a length were few and far between and combined with wides, bumpers and innocuous deliveries that Mohammad Ashraful and Mehrab Hossain jnr could let go.
Ntini, at the other end, showed greater discipline and broke through Bangladesh's resistance when he found one to grip and bounce on Ashraful who could only fend it to Neil McKenzie in the gully. It was the breakthrough which began a predictable slide for the visitors. With one came two as Shakib Al Hasan attempted to pull Steyn but could only bottom-edge him through to the keeper.
The wickets stirred South Africa into life and set panic scuttling through the Bangladeshis' minds. Mushfiqur Rahim was caught ball-watching when Mehrab set off for a quick single, and Ashwell Prince did the rest at short extra-cover. Naeem Islam somehow survived 11 deliveries - twice hit on the gloves - before Steyn lured him into a drive to be caught behind. Mashrafe Mortaza was cleaned up in emphatic fashion by the same bowler.
Steyn mixed his pace cleverly, but his quicker deliveries caused Bangladesh's poor lower-order - quite understandably - to back away at every opportunity. When Shahadat Hossain was felled by yet another sharp bouncer, it was difficult not to feel some sympathy for a side so ill-equipped to handle fast bowling.
Not everything has gone South Africa's way. Morkel's alliance with Steyn is South Africa's great hope of tripping up Australia next month, but on the early evidence this season, there is work to be done. Ntini, who looks a revived bowler but is nevertheless beginning to show his age, outbowled his younger team-mate by a distance. As he showed against England, it is Morkel's lack of consistency which worries most. Balls fired down the leg-side were followed up with wides outside the off stump, and such a scattergun approach will be cruelly exposed by Australia.
Hossain and Mehrab flayed 44 enjoyably carefree runs, helping Bangladesh sneak past their first-innings total of 153, before Steyn finally yorked Hossain to complete his five-wicket haul. Jacques Kallis picked up the final wicket to register a predictably crushing win, and prompt yet more questions over the future of Bangladesh cricket.
Mickey Arthur expressed his concern at South Africa's build-up to the Australia series last week, and against such meek opposition it is difficult not to sympathise. Nevertheless, with the batsmen gaining time in the middle, and Steyn bowling so beautifully, only South Africa can take positives from this drubbing.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?