It was evident that the Mirpur pitch for the first T20 had changed character since the ODIs against Pakistan and India. Debris flew from the bowlers' boots during their follow-throughs, and piled up in front of the popping creases. There was plenty of turn on offer, and low bounce too. All of this aided Bangladesh in their bid to stop South Africa from running away to a big total. But the home batsmen failed to survive against South Africa's spin duo of Aaron Phangiso and JP Duminy, leave alone attack them.
Collectively, Phangiso and Duminy took fewer wickets than Arafat Sunny, Nasir Hossain and Shakib Al Hasan. Sunny started superbly to remove AB de Villiers in the first over and locked down Duminy while Shakib was both aggressive with his flight in the middle overs and tight at the death, giving away only five runs in the last over. Sohag Gazi was the odd one out but he was playing his first international match in nearly a year.
Phangiso and Duminy were more economical and bowled slower through the air, giving the ball time to turn. One could argue that the six wickets picked up by the South Africa's pace bowlers, particularly the early breakthroughs, made a bigger difference to the result. After all, Bangladesh's pace bowlers combined to give away 50 runs in seven wicketless overs. But as the Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza said, it was more important how the two sets of batsmen handled spin and his lot came out second.
"Our spinners usually don't turn the ball too much," Mashrafe said. "We can use the variable bounce on slow wickets so maybe the ball turning was a bit of a problem. Their spinners gave away 32 runs and took three wickets. But we could have chased 150 with a bit more effort. You can say that they made 10 more runs [than ideal] but 149 is chasable in T20s. Both spinners bowled well but they handled our spinners better than we handled theirs, which created the difference."
Duminy and Phangiso bowled seven overs in tandem from the seventh to the 13th over, first breaking the Mushfiqur Rahim-Shakib Al Hasan third-wicket stand that was making amends for the early exit of the Bangladesh openers. Duminy got Mushfiqur to loft one towards deep midwicket but it wasn't hit well enough. Duminy's next wicket was more due to wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock's quick thinking but Bangladesh were sliding and they slipped further to 57 for five when Nasir Hossain drove Phangiso straight to Rilee Rossouw. Phangiso was also troubling Shakib regularly.
Rossouw, however, said Duminy and Phangiso were lucky to get to bowl at a time when there was more turn on offer. "I think both sides bowled really well today," he said. "Lucky for us, we bowled in the second innings and it spun a bit more."
Duminy later bowled one more tight over but by then Bangladesh were in freefall. On most of the pitches they have played on since the World Cup, Bangladesh's batsmen have thrived, being able to trust the bounce and pace. This pitch was different, and they struggled. Mashrafe said a rapid start was important, particularly because Tamim Iqbal and Soumya Sarkar were the in-form batsmen, but not at the cost of early wickets.
"We have been playing on true wickets for quite some time so it may be the case," he said. "But we have been playing on such surfaces for a long time and it was harder for [South Africa]. The difference was that couple of their batsmen were there till the end.
"We had asked [the openers] to get us 45-50 runs in the first six overs. It required us to take risks, but if that had happened, our lives would have been easier. We have to find out how we can get the runs without losing too many wickets."
It would be harsh not to mention how well Mashrafe used his spinners from the start but such positives tend to get overshadowed when a side loses by 52 runs. Bangladesh have conceded 150-plus scores in 16 of their 43 T20 games, and 14 times while bowling first. To keep South Africa down to 148 will have given the spinners confidence and the team management a reason to stick to the same attack.
Mashrafe was happy with how Sunny and Nasir handled the Powerplay and wasn't too displeased with Sohag Gazi's two overs, even though they went for 16 runs. This was the offspinner's first international match in 11 months.
"We had planned to give Sunny the new ball since he does well with it," Mashrafe said. "They may have thought we will start with Sohag Gazi but we thought Nasir should also open with Sunny. Actually du Plessis batted like he does for Chennai [Super Kings] in these sort of pitches but our spinners did well. Had we removed du Plessis earlier, they would have made 10-15 runs less.
"It is not easy in international cricket. There was a bit of pressure plus Gazi probably didn't get to train too much with the white ball. He didn't bowl too badly. I think he can adjust to international cricket by playing and training with us."