Bangladesh may not be providing South Africa the most stern examination before Australia next month, but for the first time in this series they challenged the hosts with a combative performance to reach 250. Fifteen minutes before stumps on the first day at Centurion, Mashrafe Mortaza capped an encouraging day for Bangladesh with the wicket of Neil McKenzie for a duck.
Their performance today was in stark contrast to their dismal effort in Bloemfontein last week when they only managed to survive 88.3 overs in two innings. But this was a different story, with Junaid Siddique cracking 67 while Mushfiqur Rahim's elegantly crafted 65 lifted his side to their highest first-innings score since April 2006. There were signs of encouragement for Morne Morkel, the fast bowler who has struggled with his consistency, but again he mixed the sublime with the scattergun.
In fact, Bangladesh improved with each session. Choosing to bat on what is traditionally an encouraging surface for the seamers, and with South Africa calling up Monde Zondeki to replace Paul Harris, it seemed perfectly logical that they would succumb to their long-standing vulnerability to pace. Yet they showed early promise, particularly Junaid who took a liking to Dale Steyn, who had a poor day. Holding the pose, Junaid drove him casually down the ground while Tamim Iqbal nudged and nurdled singles, dispatching the occasional handsome cover-driven four.
Having struggled with his line and length, Morkel finally settled into a good rhythm to hit Junaid with a viper-spitting bouncer which hammered into his unprotected left arm. A fuller delivery accounted for Tamim on 31, who edged him behind, causing celebrations of relief from an embattled fast bowler. He followed it up with a slightly slower and fuller delivery to Mohammad Ashraful who, with concreted feet, offered a simple return catch.
A lunchtime score of 64 for 3 summed up the situation. Bangladesh had begun promisingly, only to throw it away before the interval, but Junaid continued to flourish after the break as South Africa were made to wait. Jacques Kallis produced several unplayables, gaining prodigious swing to Mehrab Hossain jnr, but as ever it was Makhaya Ntini who made the breakthrough when Mehrab was drawn into a loose swish outside his off stump.
Junaid grew in confidence, upper-cutting Kallis over point for a confident and tone-setting boundary, but he showed his true class when on the front foot. A sweetly timed off-drive sped for four off Ntini, bowling a touch too full, while Steyn - curiously ineffective throughout the day - was punched off the back foot for four more. A streaky, uppish cut flew past gully to bring up his third Test fifty, an elegant example of the talent in Bangladesh batsmanship.
At the other end, however, came evidence of Bangladesh's difficulties. Raqibul Hasan, making his debut, showed potential with a supremely elegant flick off his pads, but couldn't cope with Morkel's bounce, fending him to Smith for his second catch. Shakib-al-Hasan entertained with a cameo of 30 off 27 balls but Bangladesh needed rather more substance than a brief flurry.
And they received it from Mushfiqur, batting a little too low, frankly, at No. 8. With strong wrists and firm cuts, he batted with great aggression - driving Kallis beautifully for four; slapping another wide from Morkel through the same cover region before swinging Steyn for two sublime sixes over midwicket. He was dropped on 23 by Mark Boucher - one of two spills by the wicketkeeper - but two more fours off Steyn took him through to a superb fifty. His tenth-wicket partnership with Mahbubul Alam (who contributed just 1) of 56 spanned just 12 overs. South Africa were increasingly incensed, but were guilty of bowling too wide.
Granted, 250 is not a total to challenge one of the world's best line-ups, but Bangladesh ensured it was their day in the sun when Mortaza found a brute of a delivery to square up McKenzie. He could have had Hashim Amla, too, but the ball appeared to brush the batsman's pads rather than his glove down the leg side. Nevertheless, with South Africa trailing by 230, for the first time in this series Bangladesh have put up a fight.