The crowd has something to cheer about

THIS was one of the rare matches where both the sides, the winner and the loser, went back happy.

S. DINAKAR

Boeta Dippenaar (left) and Neil McKenzie were involved in an unbeaten century partnership for the fourth wicket. Both batsmen scored half-centuries. — Pic. N. BALAJI-

THIS was one of the rare matches where both the sides, the winner and the loser, went back happy.

As for the South Africans, they had at least got back on the winning road. The Bangladeshis were not too displeased either. They had finally crossed 200 and the `Man of the Match' was one of their own.

Mohammad Ashraful, the record-breaking young century-maker for Bangladesh, displayed plenty of spirit during his 52, opening the innings.

He is only 18 now, but showed he was undaunted by bigger names and was quick to launch into the pulls, when the sharp Mkhaya Ntini pitched short.

There is no dearth of passion for the game in Bangladesh, but the supporters would do well to realise that the future of the game in the country lies in young players such as Ashraful.

A majority of the others have come up woefully short in international cricket. They are not getting younger either and can only take the side up to a modest point.

Given the recent disappointments, there are strong suggestions in some quarters in the country that Bangladesh should revert to football as the No. 1 sport.

Indeed, football was the major sport in this country before Bangladesh qualified for the '99 World Cup, where it upstaged Pakistan in a league game and cricket captured the hearts and minds of the Bangladeshis.

And when Bangladesh was granted Test status, the popularity of the game reached sky high in this sports-loving nation. There were hopes and there were dreams.

Sadly, Bangladesh has not come close to defeating another Test playing nation in any form of cricket over the last four years and had, in fact, been humiliated by Canada and Kenya, countries without Test status, in the 2003 World Cup.

Despite the setbacks, the fact of the matter is, Bangladesh has a slightly better chance of climbing the rungs in cricket, say 10 years from now, than excel in football, where the field is much larger and stronger. Cricket is after all a smaller, closely-knit world. Coming back to the match, the verdict of this third TVS Cup contest was never in doubt. The only question was about the margin. The Proteas clinched the game by 83 runs after running up a score of 294 for three in 50 overs.

Both sides had entered the duel after being pounded by the Indians and for the South Africans, in par<147,2,1>ticular, playing the very next day at the Bangabandhu Stadium, the match assumed importance.

They would have to get used to the conditions, the sluggish pitch and the heat. In the event, winning the toss was just what the team needed from Smith. The Proteas needed `a good hit out' in the 50 overs, to prepare for the tougher challenges against the Indians. That they finished just six short of the 300-mark, losing only three wickets, suggested they hadn't fared too badly.

Smith and Herschelle Gibbs, under the bright afternoon sun, did not take too long before wading into pacemen Tapash Baishya and Tariq Aziz, who had replaced Monjural Islam in the XI.

Gibbs struck the ball firmly through the offside field, pulled with aplomb, and when the spinners came on, swept fine. Smith, a powerful on-side player, too, got into his stride and the South Africans notched up 92 in the first 15 overs laying a solid foundation.

Smith (45) had only himself to blame for jumping out in haste to left-arm spinner Mohammed Rafique and paying the price. Gibbs too missed out on a bigger score, sent back by a direct hit from extra-cover for 62. The exciting Jacques Rudolph (44), Boeta Dippenaar (66 not) and Neil McKenzie (55 not out) ensured that at least one South African objective was successful.

Apart from left-armer Rafique and leggie Alok Kapali, one of the better cricketers in the Bangladesh ranks, the rest were hardly impressive.

When the host pursued the target, the second-wicket pair of Ashraful and the compact Habibul Bashar caught the Proteas by surprise, producing brave strokes and the crowd that had swelled under the lights, roared. However, once Shaun Pollock — again held back by Smith — and Allan Dawson, who both bowled straight and moved the ball, got into the act, Bangladesh slowly faded away from the encounter.

Skipper Mahmud struck some defiant blows and when the 200-run barrier was overcome, the feat was cheered widely. At least, the Bangladeshis had reason to smile on the New Year day. There is another saying in Dhaka. That the skies will open up to greet the fresh year. True enough, a thunderstorm lashed the ground, moments after the match ended.

The scores:

South Africa: G. Smith st. Khaled Mashud b Mohammad Rafique 45; H. Gibbs (run out) 62; J. Rudolph c Tareq Aziz b Mohammad Rafique 44; H. Dippenaar (not out) 66; N. McKenzie (not out) 55; Extras (b-4, lb-10, w-6, nb-2) 22. Total (for three wkts. in 50 overs) 294.

Fall of wickets: 1-112, 2-133, 3-189.

Bangladesh bowling: Tareq Aziz 7-0-50-0, Tapash Baisya 10-0-54-0, Khaled Mahmud 2-0-29-0, Mohammad Rafique 10-0-43-2, Alok Kapali 10-0-45-0, Sanwar Hossain 4-0-23-0, Mohammad Ashraful 7-0-36-0.

Bangladesh: Javed Omar c Boucher b Ntini 9; Mohammad Ashraful c Boucher b Adams 52; Habibul Bashar b Dawson 18; Sanwar Hossain lbw b Pollock 1; Alok Kapali lbw b Pollock 27; Akram Khan lbw b Pollock 15; Khaled Mashud c Smith b Dawson 11; Khaled Mahmud c McKenzie b Ntini 40; Mohammad Rafique b Dawson 15; Tapash Baisya b Pollock 3; Tareq Aziz (not out) 1; Extras (lb-1, w-14, nb-4) 19. Total (in 49.3 overs) 211.

Fall of wickets: 1-24, 2-82, 3-83, 4-112, 5-140, 6-141, 7-174, 8-204, 9-210.

South Africa bowling: Ntini 9-1-51-2, Willoughby 8-0-32-0, Pollock 9.3-0-36-4, Dawson 10-1-26-3, Adams 10-0-42-1, Smith 3-0-23-0.