A clean sweep by South Africa

THE Proteas will travel to England in the summer for a major Test campaign, with the Bangladeshis being useful target practice for the more challenging battles ahead.

THE Proteas will travel to England in the summer for a major Test campaign, with the Bangladeshis being useful target practice for the more challenging battles ahead.

The jubilant South African team which won the Test series 2-0. — Pic. AFP-

However, where do the Bangladeshis go from here? They are scheduled to visit down under in near future where they will be up against the awesome Aussies in a Test series. A daunting prospect indeed.

The innings and 18-run defeat at the Bangabandhu Stadium meant the Bangladeshis had now gone down in 18 of the 19 Tests they had figured in since gaining Test status. An unenviable record that raises serious doubts about the country's abilty to survive in the elite league.

The Bangladeshis have quite some distance to journey, and it would take a huge effort from them to lift their standards. In the second Test, at least in the area of batting, there was little evidence that this Asian nation was willing to put in the required effort.

Bangladesh made 210 in its second innings, yet, Habibul Bashar's 33 was the highest score. Just the kind of scoreline that is bound to send the wrong signals.

The essence of Test match batting is to consolidate on starts, build partnerships, occupy the crease for long periods and make the opposition earn the wickets. However, the Bangladesh second innings was dotted with a string of 20s.

There were glimpses of good cricket on view, but all too brief. There was an element of solidity from Bashar and some deft touches from Mohammed Ashraful, but lacking was the resilience that is the hallmark of successful Test teams.

Bangladesh has to make a beginning somewhere, and the need of the hour is for their young cricketers to be involved in competitive first class cricket, in either India or Pakistan, where the youngsters would learn the innings building skills. The quality of domestic tournaments in Bangladesh cannot really be high.

The side would also learn to maintain the pressure when it has the opposition on the mat. Indeed, South Africa was in a spot of bother at the Bangabandhu Stadium on the first day with the visitors struggling at 63 for four after winning the toss.

Left-arm spinner Mohammed Rafique, on a comeback, had stunned the Proteas, getting Herschelle Gibbs to hole out at mid-on, having Boeta Dippenaar picked at silly point and trapping Neil McKenzie in front.

Earlier, paceman Tapash Baishya had prised out South African skipper Graeme Smith. And then Rafique, who had got into problems with his action a couple of years ago, cut into the South African order.

Rafique, never a big spinner of the ball, but one who is quicker through the air, has plenty of experience behind him, and the Bangladeshi did put it to good use, bringing about changes in speed, keeping the South Africans guessing.

The Bangladeshis had seized the early initiative, and there was a spring in their steps, however, the left-handed Jacques Rudolph proved a stumbling block once again. The southpaw had notched up a double hundred on debut in Chittagong, but on a slow Bangabandhu pitch, where the odd delivery tended to keep low, the youngster faced a much bigger challenge. He was up to it, driving fluently through the covers like he does on most occasions. He also found a willing partner in wicket-keeper batsman Mark Boucher and the Proteas recovered gradually.

The fifth wicket pair added 107 before Rudolph (71, 138b, 11x4), who appeared on course for another three-figure score, gave it away in a momentary lapse, stumped by Mohammed Salim, off part-time leggie Mohammed Ashraful.

Interestingly, Boucher had earned a reprieve when Salim muffed a stumping of Ashraful. The vice-captain went on to play a useful innings, sweeping and punching well, and hitting the ball into the gaps.

However, Boucher (71, 134, 8x4) was scalped by Rafique, who beat the batsman's intended square-drive. The Proteas, with Shaun Pollock playing a valuable hand with an unbeaten 41, and debutant Robin Peterson providing useful resistance, finished the first day at a respectable 264 for six.

Considering the difficult times Bangladesh cricket had been going through, it was, in an overall context, a more profitable day on the field for the home players. At least, they managed to put their fancied opponents in a pressure situation and displayed some fight.

On a truncated second day, when rain and thunderstorm lashed the ground, Rafique with six for 77, recorded the best figures by a Bangladeshi in Tests, even as South Africa was bowled out for 330.

Pollock fell to the second ball of the day, paceman Mashrafe Mortaza winning a leg-before appeal, however, the left-handed Peterson, came up with a debut half-century, adjusting well to the slowness of the pitch.

On the third day, with the groundstaff doing an excellent job to get the play started in time, Bangladesh was bundled out for 102 at the stroke of lunch and it was yet another hapless display by the home batsmen.

Lacking were the commitment and a willingness to fight, that can so often overcome shortcomings in technique. There were wickets for Ntini, Pollock, Dawson, and left-arm spinner Peterson, who scalped his first victim in Tests.

Peterson, surprisingly given more bowling than Paul Adams, who had caused such destruction in the Bangladesh ranks during the first Test, picked up three wickets, with the host losing eight of its second innings wickets.

Ntini, struck for three successive fours by Akram Khan, but responding with a vicious short pitched delivery that nailed the former Bangladesh captain, registered his 100th Test wicket, and he had enough reasons to celebrate the occasion with his team-mates.

Peterson, who operated an off-stump line, induced the batsmen into the drive, and got a few of his deliveries to turn, managed to make some impression. The same could not be said of the Bangladesh batsmen, with not a single noteworthy contribution on the scoresheet.

Pollock completed the formalities on the final day, the Proteas swept the series 2-0, and Rudolph was named the Man of the Series. There was some consolation for Bangladesh too, when Rafique was adjudged the Man of the Match. What Bangladesh needs though is a collective, cohesive effort.