Ashraful's fine-leg flamboyance
In seven previous ODIs against South Africa, Bangladesh hadn't even put in a hint of a fight - they had batted first four times, and lost twice by ten wickets, and once each by nine and seven wickets; they had chased on three occasions, and lost by more than 80 runs each time. Importantly, though, is that the two teams last met more than 30 months ago, in the Champions Trophy in 2004. Plenty has changed since then, and in conditions that were ideal for slow bowling the Bangladesh bowlers completely dominated proceedings.
It started, though, much before Bangladesh took the field. Their highest opening stand in the seven previous matches against South Africa was 26; here, they were separated only after 42 runs had been added. But the real impetus only came when Mohammad Ashraful decided to take charge. He started off slowly, scoring just 12 off his first 24 deliveries, but when he finally opened out, the display of strokeplay was quite breathtaking.
Easily the most audacious stroke was the paddle shot he played repeatedly off the fast bowlers, getting down on one knee and paddling it over short fine leg, not once but three times. As the table of his scoring zone shows, he scored 20 runs in the fine-leg region, all through boundaries.
Ashraful was especially ruthless against the three specialist fast bowlers, scoring 58 runs from 43 balls against Andre Nel, Charl Langeveldt and Makhaya Ntini, whose speed was ideal on a pitch lacking in pace and bounce. South Africa were also hurt badly by their inability to staunch the runs towards the end - the last seven overs leaked 70 as the bowlers completely lost the plot. Ashraful's magnificent 87 was his second half-century in five ODIs against South Africa, and it lifts his average against them to 32.40, more than ten runs above his career average.
Bangladesh's total of 251 for 8 is their third-highest against a Test-playing team when batting first - both their previous higher efforts came against Zimbabwe. It was always likely to be a difficult run-chase for South Africa, and Bangladesh's bowlers - and especially their spinners - ensured that it wasn't even close. Just how difficult for the South African batsmen can be gleaned from the fact that they managed nine fours in their entire innings; Ashraful struck 12 in his 83-ball knock.