Ashraful scripts stunning victory
Spurred on by a delightful 87 from Mohammad Ashraful, Bangladesh pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the tournament, thrashing South Africa by 67 runs at the Providence Stadium in Guyana. With 251 on the board, Bangladesh's trio of left-arm spinners thrived on the sluggish surface, one that resembled a sub-continental sandpit during the second half of the match, and pulled off a truly memorable triumph.
South Africa were outplayed. Having been given first use of the surface, their bowlers unravelled as the first innings went on. Barring Andre Nel, who snared his maiden five-wicket haul in ODIs, the rest were predictable and, worryingly, wayward. Their batsmen didn't come to grips with the deteriorating pitch, stifled by probing medium-pace and canny spin, and chose aggression when graft was essential. It was South Africa's first loss to Bangladesh and opens up the Super Eights to a number of possibilities.
Having been inserted under overcast skies, Bangladesh turned in their most impressive batting effort in five matches. Undeterred by a Nel engineered top-order stumble, when they were reduced to 84 for 4, Bangladesh recovered through some meaningful middle-order partnerships. They followed that up with an efficient bowling effort, backed up by tigerish fielding, and didn't allow any sizeable partnerships to flourish. Herschelle Gibbs, forced to come in at No.7 after suffering a calf strain earlier, battled till the end but lack of support, and a mounting run-rate, reduced it to an effort in vain.
Ashraful's knock, the highest individual score by a Bangladesh batsman in World Cups, was a delightful blend of caution and aggression. He was forced to play safe early on, gliding singles to third man and cobbling together a reviving stand with Aftab Ahmed, but ended in a flourish of paddle-scoops and rasping drives redolent of boyish audacity.
For two batsmen with a similar aggressive bent of mind, they reined in their instincts and the 76-run stand was a steadying influence in the middle overs. Aftab fell just when he appeared to be stepping it up, lashing straight to extra-cover, but Ashraful made his knock count. He brought up his second World Cup fifty with a smoked loft over Makhaya Ntini's head and followed it up with a cheeky four past fine leg, shuffling across the crease and angling it cutely. The final ball of the over, the 44th, was clattered past point and Ashraful stepped up the ante in fine style. Mashrafe Mortaza clouted three fours and six, giving Bangladesh exactly the kind of boost they needed to rattle the total past the 250-mark.
Syed Rasel provided Bangladesh with two crucial early blows. Smith tried to manufacture drives through the off side, backing away outside off, and paid the price for trying often, missing a straight one and losing his off stump. Jacques Kallis was uncharacteristically edgy early on, nibbling eagerly, and he appeared to want to dominate the bowling from the outset. Rasel, though, stuck to the basics and lack of width did Kallis in, mistiming an attempted loft to mid-on.
That was enough of an opening for the spinners to barge in. Enter Abdur Razzak with his snarling darts. One spun slightly away and foxed de Villiers, the next went straight on and rattled his stumps. Enter Mohammad Rafique with his 117 matches of experience and the pressure valves were slowly tightened. Just five runs came in the third Power Play, between overs 15 and 20, and three wickets were winkled out. Enter Saqibul Hasan with youthful vim, and Mark Boucher was prised out with flight. Justin Kemp was undone by a smart return catch next ball and South Africa were being spun out in quick time.
Shaun Pollock and Gibbs added 45 but the asking rate was climbing too fast and it took a sharp direct hit from Tamim Iqbal to end that resistance. Rafique's loop was too good for Nel and Razzak returned to mop up No.10 and Jack. Gibbs limped on, with a runner for company, but strangely never made a serious attempt to go after the bowling. He was content with finding the gaps and never really tried to smash the bowling out of the ground. Maybe he was too hamstrung, maybe the bowling was accurate. Whatever the reason, the match was going only in one direction by then.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan assistant editor of Cricinfo