Four days later, we do have a World Cup after all!
After two days of Asian abjection, and three days of nowhere close to the competitive cricket this format promised, the fifth game of the ICC World Cup 2019 finally gave us a contest – and an unlikely result.
Bangladesh kicked off their campaign with a 21-run win over South Africa, only their fourth win in 21 matches against the Proteas – and only their second outside of Bangladesh.
The margin of defeat flatters the South Africans, who displayed a lacklustre quality very rarely seen from them in the group stage of a World Cup; the gulf between the sides can be seen in the skewed nature of the list that follows.
Here’s a selection of the defining moments from a capturing day’s action at The Oval in London.
Soumya fights fire with fire
Pace and bounce have been the early pace-setters at the 12th edition of the Cricket World Cup, and while this surface at The Oval appeared closer to the ‘350-is-norm’ road expected through this tournament, South Africa won the toss and gave first access to two solid exponents of pace and bounce in Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi.
Their abilities kept a lid on Tamim Iqbal. But Soumya Sarkar, who accompanied the veteran opener in the Bangladesh camp to the middle, had come out with only one game-plan.
Prepared to counter the nagging attempts at body blows, the 26-year-old gave the Tigers a roaring start.
58 came off the first eight overs and before Tamim was first to be dismissed, Soumya had already found the boundary eight times, and contributed 35 off those runs, from just 21 balls.
The class of 2007 seizes the day
The last time Shakib al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim both scored fifties in a World Cup game against a non-Associate team was that Port of Spain victory over India in 2007.
Both were teenagers playing their first World Cup at the time. 12 years on, potentially contesting the tournament for the final occasion in their careers, Bangladesh’s most seasoned campaigners ensured the blistering start to the day wouldn’t go to waste after the dismissals of the openers left their side on 75 for 2 in the 12th.
The momentum, instead, was transferred heavily to the Tigers camp with a 142-run association – Bangladesh’s highest for any wicket in the history of the World Cup.
It came at a fair clip, too (141 balls, all told), and before Shakib tried to be a little too inventive off the bowling of Imran Tahir, the duo had rendered the potent South African attack for a match-defining 20+ overs in the middle.
Bangladesh had only topped 250 twice in 20 previous outings against these opponents; that they were able to breach the 300-run mark for the first time was down almost entirely to the tireless effort of their class of 2007.
Rabada drops Mahmadullah – and the cup?
At 217/2 in 35 overs, with Shakib and Mushfiqur virtually unperturbed by whatever the Proteas threw their way, Bangladesh were staring at something special – possibly even their first-ever 350+ score in ODIs.
In the next 11 overs, aided by the dismissals of both the well-set batsmen, South Africa clawed their way back by conceding just 59 runs for three wickets. At 276/5 with four overs to play, it looked like Bangladesh might not get more than 300-310.
The first ball of the 47th over saw Chris Morris deceive Mahmudullah, somewhat, with a slower delivery, only for the looping ball’s trajectory to deceive Rabada at the deep backward square boundary.
He ran in from the fence much more than he needed to, then turned around and ran backwards, before spilling it despite getting both hands to it.
To add insult to injury, the ball trickled over the rope for four; to add a heavy dollop of garnishing to the Proteas wounds, the Tigers pummeled 54 off the last 24 balls to propel themselves to their highest-ever total in the 50-over game.
Mahmudullah was on 12 off 18 balls before the dropped catch; he finished unbeaten on 46 off 33.
“Son, you’ve just dropped the World Cup”, said Steve Waugh to Herschelle Gibbs (at least as the fabled myth went before Waugh cleared the air years later) at Headingley in 1999, and it remained over the years as one of two framed references from the first great South African choke.
Mahmudullah clearly didn’t have any such exchange – but could Rabada have landed a telling blow to South Africa’s semi-final hopes already?
Agony to ecstasy: Mushfiqur’s instant recovery
The flat nature of the surface meant South Africa were still well within a shot of a victory, despite needing to pull off a World Cup-record chase.
At Kimberley in October 2017, when Bangladesh had recorded their previous-best ODI total against South Africa, their 278 had been reduced to smithereens by Quinton de Kock, who smashed an unbeaten 168 to power his side to a 10-wicket win.
Given his from until now, the ‘keeper-batsman was always going to be key to his team’s fortunes, and he stitched a solid opening stand along with Aiden Markram in the absence of Hashim Amla.
Quinton de Kock was run out for 23 after a mix-up with his batting partner at the other end, Aiden Markram.
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Then, with the scoreboard reading 49/0 in 9.3, came a see-saw of a moment.
A thin edge off an attempted cut from the bowling of Mehidy Hasan Miraz proved too sharp for Mushfiqur Rahim’s reflexes behind the stumps. But de Kock, clearly a bit rattled, sauntered out of his crease nervously, without any idea of where the ball really was.
It had gone barely five steps behind his Bangladeshi counterpart, who was quick to get to it, turn around and throw at the stumps at the batting end down – while de Kock was left rooted nowhere thanks to a frozen Markram.
In an instant, Mushfiqur had gone from hero to possible zero to hero again.
One shot too many, twice over
Arriving at the crease right after that brain-freeze moment, Faf du Plessis took charge of the chase to reach 62 from 52 balls in a middle-overs batting display to rank as good as any.
The South African skipper had gone at better than a run-a-ball all along after facing his first 10 deliveries, while not allowing the spin duo of Shakib and Mehidy to dominate proceedings by keeping the singles ticking, and had been finding boundaries fairly at will to most parts of the ground.
In the 27th over, he stepped out to go after Mehidy. But this was a well-tossed delivery, which perhaps needed to be respected. It gripped, it turned, and it went through his defense.
Rassie van der Dussen, half-centurion in the opening game against England, walked out to replace his captain, and once again did his burgeoning early reputation no harm (the 30-year-old averaged 80 from nine innings before the Bangladesh clash).
Much like du Plessis, van der Dussen was playing a busy knock to keep the scorecard ticking for the Proteas, and had successfully taken on Mustafizur Rahman, getting 15 off his seventh over to bring the equation down to 108 from 12 overs.
Minutes later, he attempted an ugly swat off the first ball of the 40th over to be bowled by Mohammad Saifuddin. He missed a straight one altogether, and met the same fate as his skipper.
South Africa were left needing 103 off the last 10 overs – and there was no coming back.