Finally, after four one-sided contests in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, The Oval produced the closest encounter of the tournament so far as Bangladesh tumbled a much-fancied South African team to commence their campaign in an emphatic fashion. Outclassing the Proteas is a huge statement by Mashrafe Mortaza and company, and it was primarily made possible by their experienced batting unit, which scored 330 — their highest ODI total ever — to put the opponent under extreme pressure at the halfway stage of the match. Though South Africa did make a valiant effort to take the game close on the scratchy surface, but in the end fell short by 21 runs.
Bangladesh have one of most well settled batting line-ups in this World Cup and on Sunday its' prowess was quite clearly evident. First of all, it was a surprising call by South Africa to ask the Tigers to bat first on that used surface. But having got the opportunity, the Bangladeshi batsmen put their experience into play and made the best use of it.
Last time when these two teams met in a World Cup match back in 2011, Bangladesh were bundled out for just 78 at Mirpur. Perhaps, here Faf Du Plessis was looking for a similar sort of an effort from his bowlers. With Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi, South Africa implemented an aggressive short-ball strategy. Early in the match, they wanted to scare the Bangladeshis with pace and bounce.
Well, the Tigers were ready for this.
Soumya Sarkar took on the short balls. In the powerplay, he is Bangladesh's designated aggressor and after a few initial play and misses, the left-hander went after the bowling. He pulled Ngidi for two consecutive boundaries in the fifth over to get things going, much to the delight of the the partisan crowd at the stands. At the other end, Tamim Iqbal was more conservative in his approach.
Bangladesh's fifty came up within eight overs and from that point, there was no looking back as the tone was set for the innings.
However, just when it seemed that Sarkar and Tamim were taking things out of South Africa's control, Andile Phehlukwayo and Chris Morris' dual strikes within quick successions made the pendulum swing.
From 60 for no loss in the ninth over, they soon became 75 for 2. At that point, they seemed like throwing away the early advantage. But Bangladesh's most experienced pair of Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim made sure that their team continues to enjoy the upper hand in the contest. The pair shared a 142-run third-wicket partnership, which is now Bangladesh's highest stand in the World Cups. In fact, the duo not only just steadied the ship in the middle-overs, they also got their runs at 6.04 per over.
Both Shakib and Mushfiqur are playing their fourth World Cup and with that experience, they did not allow South Africa even a sniff of a comeback in the contest. Also, Ngidi's injury helped their cause as du Plessis was forced to used his part-time options like Aiden Markram.
When Imran Tahir, who was playing his 100th ODI, castled Shakib to separate the pair, Bangladesh had reached 217 in the 36th over. However, quick wickets of Mohammad Mithun and Mushfiqur pegged them back a little. But they had their crisis man Mahmudullah batting at No 6, who ensured their efforts were not wasted. He scored an unbeaten 46 off 33 and took the team total way beyond the 300-run mark. Mostly thanks to the onslaught of Mahmudullah and Mosaddek Hossain towards the end, Bangladesh got 54 in their last four overs and these extra runs made the difference in the end.
According to skipper Mashrafe Mortaza, going forward in this competition this solidity and experience in the batting line-up, will be Bangladesh's greatest strength.
“I think really, it's a heavy batting line-up. That is the best we have,” he said. “I always said that you look the experience, I have Tamim opening and Shakib batting at three, Mushfiqur comes back at four. Mahmudullah batting at six for the depth. They are all batting so well for us.
"[At the top] Soumya, he's coming out with something out the box. Shakib has got the experience and makes sure that in the top order, he's more responsible and he can hold all the pressure to deliver at his best," Mortaza explained.
Having put up such a clinical performance in their inaugural fixture of this World Cup, Bangladesh have raised quite a few eyebrows here in England. They are certainly now one of the dark horses to reach the semi-finals.