Saturday, April 07, 2007

The anatomy of Bangladesh's upset

Bangladesh’s ambush of India in the opening round was a stunning way to open the World Cup campaign for the Tigers. Unhappily, that high was followed by a familiar script – crushing wins at the hands of Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand. Bangladesh needed at least another spunky performance – either to revive their campaign or take some great memories back home. Few expected that opportunity to come against in their game against South Africa today.

Bangladesh is a young team that is not expected to win when they take the field. They are free from the pressures of keeping victory in sight at all times. We’ve seen in this tournament that this is not a trivial burden to bear – it can create problems for the toughest of teams. And Bangladesh capitalized on this asset to their advantage.

Batting first, every time their innings stuttered, they tried harder. Not once did they seem to panic, backing themselves to play the ball rather than the situation or the reputation of their celebrated opponents. They chose steady progress over a rapid advance. They rotated the strike, scampered hard for all the runs they could and refused to back down. It was mature stuff from a team whose average age is only 23. With a productive boost coming in the final slog overs their reward was a healthy 251 – a total that was sure to have dented the South African confidence a bit.

Habibul Basher made up his mind early that it was a total he would defend on this pitch. He opted to choke the runs and let the batsmen make mistakes. At one point you could see Saqibul Hasan begging Basher for an attacking man up close for only one delivery only to be turned down by his captain.

Yet when the in-form South African openers took guard their cockiness was evident. Graeme Smith not satisfied with building an innings, sought to take charge and stick it to the Bangladesh bowlers. And as the Indians discovered earlier, you underestimate this spirited team at your own risk. Trying to get cute, Smith’s ghastly cut-swipe caught air and he lost his stumps. That misfortune seemed to spread like cancer through the South African innings. Outside of Herschelle Gibbs’ desperate gem, it was a catastrophe.

There was another unexpected advantage the Bangladesh team ran into and made full use of. The wicket was devoid of spin and lateral movement but it was low and slow. In other words, it was much like a subcontinent wicket. The three spinners in the Bangla side immediately put the pressure on the batsmen bowling a wicket to wicket line.

For sure the South African batsmen played a lame game today. When building a partnership – especially on a wicket like this - the batsmen needed to use their feet, play in the V and off their pads and milk the slow bowlers for runs. Instead most of them swished their bats rooted at the crease and quickly ran out of low-risk scoring options.

And a Bangladesh team that knows how to win exploited that to cut off all escape routes.

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