Bangladesh Tigers come of age
Guyana - A World Cup that has been short on fun was revived by a massive shock as Bangladesh completed a 67-run Super 8 win over world number one South Africa on a steamy day at the Providence stadium.
Seasoned observers whopped with incredulity while a large Easter-holiday crowd (including vast swathes of schoolchildren bussed in en mass) celebrated the triumph of David over Goliath.
Perhaps though, when we look back in years to come, this result will be considered the day the Tigers reached maturity in the international arena.
All the pieces were in place heading into what could be their last-ever upset victory.
Bangladesh were unfairly tagged as “minnows” coming into the tournament despite being one of the nine teams that plays regularly on the international circuit.
Despite being ranked ninth in the world, they have enjoyed wins over Australia and India in the last two years.
They knocked India, one of the favourites, out of the competition at the group stage with the same combination of aggressive batting and suffocating left-arm spin.
After two thrashings at the hands of Australia and New Zealand in Antigua, their move to Guyana provided a slow wicket more like home conditions and more suited to their style.
Meanwhile, South Africa had been in Georgetown for almost a fortnight, complaining openly about cabin fever, stuck in their hotel with bad weather affecting their training.
Thanks to the success of their openers through the first half of the tournament, the middle order were complaining of a lack of time in the middle, and have a reputation of struggling against slow bowling.
Bigger matches loomed for them next week in Grenada and captain Graeme Smith even talked before the game about the possibility of facing South Africa in the World Cup final.
Had Bangladesh captain Habibul Bashar won the toss it could all have been different, as he admitted he would have bowled first.
As it was, his openers survived the new ball challenge posed by Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini and the middle order capitalised to the full.
Mohammad Ashraful, who hit a century in the victory over Australia in Cardiff in 2005, was again to the fore with some cavalier shot-making but also a canny ability to keep the scoreboard moving under pressure.
He found brash allies in Aftab Ahmed and Mashrafe Mortaza, whose lofted six off Makhaya Ntini formed part of the 28 runs taken in two overs from the chastened pace bowler as Bangladesh added 80 runs in the last 10.
Andre Nel looked the part, taking 5-45 in his first game of the tournament, while the rest of the attack looked flat and disinterested.
Even so, Bangladesh’s 251-8 did not look out of reach and the talk at lunch was off a difficult, but ultimately successful, run chase.
Even though Mortaza and left-armer Syed Rasel opened the bowling well, with Smith falling early, South Africa looked well set at 62-1 after 15 overs. Then the wheels fell off.
In the space of four overs, Jaques Kallis lofted Rasel to mid-on, a slower ball from Abdur Razzaq fooled AB de Villiers and Ashwell Prince was the first run-out victim of an awesome fielding side.
Even before the TV umpire delivered his verdict, Habibul Bashar and his men were dancing with joy in the middle of the pitch with victory in their sights.
Beating South Africa was good enough but the manner of their victory, bowling out a vaunted batting line-up with eight balls to spare, was even better.
There will be huge repercussions after this game. A stodgy Super 8 has been revived, with England and West Indies regaining a realistic chance of a semi-final place.
South Africa, who are criticised by their own media as intensely as England’s football team when things are not perfect, will come under heavy fire even though they are by no means out of the competition.
Bangladesh would still have to beat England and West Indies to clinch a semi-final spot but they have at least ended years of being viewed as also-rans.