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How Soumya Sarkar shocked South Africa

If there was one shot to signal Bangladesh's intentions in this World Cup, it was played three weeks ago.

In the ninth over of the final between Bangladesh and West Indies in Dublin, Soumya Sarkar played a straight-bat punch over midwicket off Kemar Roach. He had already struck nine fours and two sixes in that innings, but it was this shot that said a lot about how he was going to bat at the main event.

Soumya was going to be fearless when attacking fast bowlers in the Powerplay. He was going to set the tone.

Against South Africa at The Oval therefore, the plan - the plan that they had planned for many years and one that has seldom come good - took shape as soon as Soumya pulled Lungi Ngidi for two fours in the fifth over. Two cracking shots that not only produced loud cheers from the partisan crowd, but also told the South Africans that the short-ball attack wasn't going to work.

It sent the message to the Bangladesh dressing room that there was no need to be nervous. They might be facing one of the tournament's best bowling line-ups but there were no demons in the pitch.

Soumya made a 30-ball 42 with nine fours, the standard quickfire knock that would be expected from attacking openers at this World Cup. He got out to a careless pull shot in the 12th over, but by then Bangladesh had put up 75 runs at 6.63 per over.

On that foundation, Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib Al Hasan built Bangladesh's best partnership at the World Cup - 142 runs - and then Mosaddek Hossain and Mahmudullah kept the good times going in the final overs. It all added up to Bangladesh recording their highest score in ODIs, that too in the opening game of their World Cup campaign.

And to think, less than a year ago, Soumya wasn't even in Bangladesh's ODI plans. Anamul Haque couldn't nail down the spot despite Mashrafe Mortaza's full backing, before Liton Das, Najmul Hossain Shanto, Imrul Kayes and even Mehidy Hasan were tried at the top of the order. Nothing worked.

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But even as all this was happening, the team management kept asking board president Nazmul Hassan and the chief selector Minhajul Abedin for Soumya to be picked. They got their way last year during the Asia Cup before Soumya came good against Zimbabwe and West Indies, enough to be picked for New Zealand where he struck his maiden Test century in Hamilton. It was there that Soumya learnt to bat according to the team's needs and not just go gung-ho because that was his natural game. You don't survive Neil Wagner's bouncer barrage without making a few adjustments.

Soumya's three consecutive fifties in Ireland last month, particularly his 41-ball 66 in the final against West Indies, helped Bangladesh out with their batting blueprint. Mosaddek blasting the five sixes that clinched the final was also made possible by Soumya; he had totally rattled the West Indies bowlers. Before this game, they had never been a quick-scoring team, but with Soumya teeing off so regularly, they could target a much higher total.

Watch on Hotstar (India only): Mahmudullah and Mosaddek go bang in the final overs

Bangladesh have had very few openers in their history who have dominated the new ball. Tamim Iqbal is one of them but he was playing this game with a wrist injury. So it was almost entirely on Soumya to counter whatever South Africa threw at them. After that initial attack on Ngidi, he was comfortable against Kagiso Rabada too, although he would now understand that his carelessness against Andile Phehlukwayo cost him a big innings. But batting for the team means taking chances, and by cutting down heavily on his wild(er) shots, Soumya is rapidly becoming the answer to their call for stability at the top.