Match Analysis

Bangladesh taking steps to become 'a lot harder and tougher'

Though they are behind in the St George's Park Test, the visitors are refusing to buckle under pressure

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Tamim Iqbal got the scoreboard ticking early  •  AFP/Getty Images

Tamim Iqbal got the scoreboard ticking early  •  AFP/Getty Images

There's that time in a St George's Park Test when the score doesn't matter. It's usually after tea, when the band has started the endless rendition of "Stand by Me" that stays in spectators' auditory memories for months, and the summer seems like it could last forever.
In this Test, that time came in the 20 overs that Tamim Iqbal and Najmul Hossain Shanto entertained the mostly-Bangladesh-supporting crowd with a counter-attacking display against overpitched bowling from South African seamers. They drove with authority, swept with confidence and timed the ball as though it was choreographed to the ongoing soundtrack.
It was an hour-and-a-half of pure cricketing bliss, which ended abruptly when Wiaan Mulder was given the ball in the 21st over. His fifth delivery angled in sharply and missed Tamim Iqbal's attempted push and hit him on the pad as he fell over. Tamim was given out lbw, thought about reviewing and decided not to, to bring his 57-ball 47 to an end. In Mulder's next over, he had Shanto in a similar fashion and three overs after that, also accounted for Mominul Haque, out lbw as he missed an inswinger.
Mulder's introduction looked a stroke of genius, though Vernon Philander had been calling it from the commentary box since the previous Test and with good reason. Though it is not especially warm, it grew more humid as the afternoon went on and the wind direction changed from coming off the land, to coming off the sea, enabling red-ball swing. Mulder is the one bowler in this attack who can these exploit conditions, and he has been under-utilised so far. He sent just four overs down in Durban, despite South Africa playing only two specialist seamers. Pre-match, Elgar said he would like to use Mulder more and in favourable circumstances, Mulder showed how useful he can be.
That's as much a reminder to Mulder himself as it is to his captain and the selectors, because his role in the team does not always appear that clear. In theory, he is a batting allrounder - and his distress at being dismissed for a duck in the first innings in Durban, when he sat in the dugout, alone, for about 20 minutes afterwards, indicates he takes that role seriously. But if South Africa are going to get the most out of him, especially in an attack with only four other bowlers, then he will have to be given more responsibility with the ball and he seems pretty okay with the idea. Mulder came to life during his six-over spell and even fielded with more energy than he had throughout the series, flinging himself around at slip and smiling every time he pulled off a good stop.
But things were not always that jovial.
The day started antagonistically when Bangladesh's seamers showed some of the bite that must have been, at least in part, brought out by their new bowling coach Allan Donald. Khaled Ahmed thought he had Kyle Verreynne at the end of his first over, when he hit above the knee-roll, and Bangladesh reviewed. Replays showed it was a poor decision to send upstairs with the ball missing leg stump by a distance.
Khaled was angry. So angry that three overs later, he hurled the ball back at Verreynne and hit him on the hand.
"Throwing the ball back at the batter just happened and was a misdirected throw rather than something intended to hit the batter," Jamie Siddons, Bangladesh's bowling coach said. "That's just normal fast bowlers getting frustrated after bowling 30 overs and not taking wickets."
Verreynne didn't see it that way and got angry back. He held out his arms, shrugging in disdain, before advancing down the track to let Khaled know what he thought. Some of the other Bangladesh players had to get involved to separate them before the umpires intervened. On the sidelines, Elgar, who had told Bangladesh to harden up pre-match, seemed to find the whole thing rather amusing and made no effort to hide his giggles.
From the Bangladesh changeroom, Donald made his way down to the side of the field, either to try and calm things down or to make a tactical recommendation. He was seen asking for a third slip to be put in, immediately after Mulder edged Ebadot Hossain wide of second slip in the previous over, and was visibly irritated that Bangladesh had not put one in place. They didn't need it anyway because Khaled got his reward when he bowled Verreynne through the bat-pad gap and celebrated with a roar. Donald looked on approvingly. It's likely he was as pleased about the wicket as he was with the aggression Khaled had shown all morning.
Bangladesh have brought a talented group of quicks, who Maharaj described as "fast bowlers who are not slow," and are willing to intimidate on this tour. For the second time in the series, there was a mid-pitch altercation after Ebaddot threw the ball back to Elgar in Durban. It was after that match that the conversation about the spirit of this series began. Bangladesh claimed South Africa were overstepping, South Africa denied it and went a step further, claiming the tough talk was moving in both directions. On the evidence of what we've seen on-field, that is indeed the case and as long as it's not spilling over into abuse, it may not be a bad thing.
It shows that Bangladesh have come prepared for the mental battle as well as the cricketing one, and that South Africa take them seriously on both fronts. "I had a chat with Russell (Domingo) and he mentioned that he told them if they want to compete they have to get a little bit tougher. We've seen that from this Bangladesh side," Maharaj said. "They are tougher than what we are used to. Test cricket is hard and as Dean said if you are going to play, you need to front up. They are a lot harder and tougher."
Siddons, who is new to Bangladesh's coaching staff, confirmed that there has been a concerted effort to get the team to play a more attacking brand of cricket and take the fight to the opposition. "We're trying to instill a fight in our team, not necessarily with our voice but in the way they play the game. I think the players have taken that on board."
Everything from the way Khaled started to the day, to the way Tamim ended it confirms Siddons' view and means that in the end, the score really does matter more than those 20 overs of fun in the middle suggested.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent