CricViz Analysis: Bangladesh v South Africa

Ben Jones analyses one of Bangladesh’s great ODI performances.

Audere est Facere. ‘To dare is to do.’

Tottenham Hotspur’s slogan is regularly flashed around on the electronic boards of their new stadium. Their club motto, compared to others, is shouted from the rooftops, promoted as an integral part of their identity. It paints them as the daring, high-risk high-reward alternative to a world where elite football has congealed. For better and for worse, this is how they wish to be seen.

On Saturday night, the ironic worse was in the air. Tottenham’s young, talented squad had made it to the Champions League final – the first they have ever reached, in their long history – but when given this enormous opportunity, they froze. In a disjointed, stilted performance, which saw them lose 2-0 to Liverpool, Mauricio Pochettino’s side appeared to freeze, frightened of making the mistake that would lose their side the final. It was a terrible, dreary match, where little risk was taken, little skill attempted. Dare, they did not. Tottenham lost.

A frustrating night, their fans were left not with the devastation of a last minute defeat, or the straightforward embarrassment of a heavy loss. Instead, the prevailing sense was of an opportunity missed, a chance not grasped, a grand piano left unplayed on the grandest stage of all. Like holding your tongue in an emotive argument, only to find your voice alone, several hours later, Spurs were left looking blankly into the mirror, considering what could have been if only, if only, if only.

***

Bangladesh aren’t expected to do much in this World Cup. Mashrafe Mortaza’s squad is an experienced one, with a good blend of raw talent and canny intelligence, while the selectors seem to know their best side, the captain knowing how to use the attack on the field. They work well, efficiently, and have grown accustomed to winning games of cricket. As of now, only two sides in the last 12 months have won a greater proportion than Bangladesh. Yet they have a particular style; they are attritional, quite conservative, and reliant on an experienced bowling attacking that knows how to defend par. Nothing wrong with that in the slightest. What they are not, is a side that plays with enormous flair, or a side who we assume have a particularly high ceiling.

With the bat, they don’t fly out of the blocks; only India, who really know what they’re doing, attack less in the first 10 overs when batting. Bangladesh build platforms, they don’t leap off them.

I’ve no idea if any Bangladesh players are football fans, let alone Spurs fans; regardless, from the first over at the Oval today, they played like a group of men filled not with a fear of losing, but with a fear of missing out, of leaving this high profile occasion with regret. They took risks from the first minute to the last. From the first moment they could, Bangladesh gambled.

Faced with arguably the best new ball attack in the competition, Soumya Sarkar and Tamim Iqbal refused to be cowed. Particularly, Sarkar’s innings was a devillish gem, the one that set the tone. Bangladesh’s opener has often carried hopes in terms of scoring rate, and he assumed that mantle today; he scored at 9.4rpo in the first 10 overs today, but played a false shot to more than a third of his deliveries. He has never faced that many deliveries in Powerplay 1 and played with such risk, even when he’s been dismissed. It was chancy, laden with opportunity and dangerand it made Bangladesh’s start the riskiest of the tournament so far. But, in truth, who cares. They scored more runs than all but two of the other efforts – the gamble paid off, and they got the start they needed.

If you charge down the pitch to Lungi Ngidi two balls in a row and hammer him to the midwicket fence, you’re going to inspire fear in your own dressing room as much as the opposition’s. Soumya’s innings was beautiful for the sense it could end at any moment, but it was necessary for the situation. This was the most runs South Africa have conceded in Overs 1-10 across their last 20 ODIs.

And they kept going. They defended just 8% of their deliveries. Since the 2015 World Cup, they have never defended less. Mortaza’s side weren’t here to mess around. They didn’t take a backwards step. They couldn’t afford to.

All of that experience that Mortaza and his men have collected, came to bear on an assessment of the pitch that said they need over 300. They needed to go hard, and so they went hard from the start. They worked out par, and then took the risks they needed in order to play that way. It wasn’t reckless, far from it. They realised that this wasn’t a pitch where 280 could be realistically defended. This was a case of a team making an assessment of how to win a match, and adapting. They adapted, and made their highest ODI total of all time.

Yet they had thrown everything at South Africa, more than any Bangladesh batsman to go before them, made more runs in their 50 overs than any Bangladeshis had ever done before, and then at the innings break, WinViz gave each side a 50% chance of victory. Bangladesh had thrown everything at it, reaching heights they’d never previously scaled, and they had to all intents and purposes, reached par.

The gambling didn’t stop when they came out to field.

South Africa got off to a reasonable start, albeit with the odd hiccup. Quinton de Kock ran himself out, Aiden Markram misjudged an arm ball from Shakib, but they were still very much in the contest.

All the while, Faf du Plessis was in his own little morality play about what it means to take a risk. In the course of his 53 ball innings, he played just one false shot. A staggeringly low level of risk, the South African captain in almost complete control. But that one false shot came against the 53rd ball in his innings, and was the last thing he did. Charging down the Mehedi Hasan, he missed an unexpectedly gripping off-break, and was bowled. No dice.

But even this was an expression of Bangladesh’s willingness to try, to dare. Mehedi’s delivery was flighted, inviting the very charge that proved fatal to Faf. Of the 60 deliveries Mehedi bowled today, only two spun more than delivery which dismissed Du Plessis. Against a batsman with the power of the South African captain, tossing the ball up in such a manner is so obviously a risk. But it paid off.

Then David Miller took on the responsibility. The most obviously explosive player in the South African line-up, Miller was a looming presence in the minds of Bangladesh fans. He was, within reason, capable of taking South Africa home from any position. With him at the crease, celebrations were on pause.

Since the Champions Trophy, Miller scores at 9.54rpo when seamers pitch it up to him. That’s his strength. Anything in his arc gets the treatment, that tight swing that dispatches balls to the boundary all over the world in T20 cricket. It’s what he’s known for, it’s what he does.

He also gets out doing it, more than he gets out doing anything else.

So, that’s what Mustafizur Rahman bowled. He saw the area of the pitch with the highest risk and the highest reward, and jumped. This was at a moment in the game when a flurry of boundaries – boundaries that you would logically expect Miller to hit, given his record – would have knocked bangladesh off their perch of favourites. Full, fast, and gripping in the pitch, it was an enormous gamble; Miller skewed it to backward point, and South African heads fell. Mustafizur dared, and Miller did the rest. It was the fullest ball he bowled to him, and it won them the game.

From then, the game was a procession. RRRs rose, and fell, but never back into the range of what South Africa could manage. The game fell away in terms of intensity; when the final ball was bowled, shovelled out towards the gasometer, there wasn’t the jubilation on the pitch you’d expect. The noise in the crowd grew louder, but that wasn’t when it had begun. The celebrations came in the moments before then, in the moments of unexpected aggression, in the moments of fear and hope. It came in the moments.

Bangladesh dared to try and play a game they rarely play. When you play a high-risk game, you briefly assume the identity of a better more confident team. Sometimes that lasts a ball, sometimes it lasts until the next moment when a boundary is smacked and you retreat into your shell. Tottenham will have left the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium last night feeling dejected that, above all else, it felt as if nothing was ventured. They never tried to be more than they were; even if this had transpired to be a defeat for Mortaza’s side in London, there would have been pride, understanding that the right call was made, to go beyond what they normally do.

The point is, when you gamble, people go with you. There was a young fan, sat next to the press box at The Oval today, who stood up whenever the ball went in the air from a Bangladesh bat. It may have been for a number of reasons, but it felt like a young girl living every risk with the men who were taking them. This was a collective effort, a collective risk, a collective reward.

Bangladesh may not go through to the semi-finals. There are plenty of good teams in this competition, South Africa among them, who will fight them tooth and nail for those last four spots. Bangladesh might get one, they might not. The point is, today they dared to play against type, and they took risks they would not normally take, risk that could have seen them ridiculed. It paid off in the most wonderful way imaginable, but the real victory was not in what they did. It was in what they dared to do.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

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