Where did that come from? In a tournament where the teams have accepted the fate of slow and languid pitches, Abu Dhabi had something new to offer in Match 30. The South Africa skipper, Temba Bavuma stated the pitch has some grass while announcing his decision to bowl first. For the first time in this tournament, the pitch had juice for the fast bowlers to work with, instead of relying on variations. It surprised the Bangladesh batters and caused their undoing.
In T20Is since 2020, they now average the lowest against pace. Much like their defeat in the opening fixture against Scotland, it once again questions their preparation in the lead up to this ICC event, 10 T20Is in home conditions which at many times ignored the relevance of pace bowling.
Put in to bat first, they were looking for a headstart by making use of the powerplay. The idea was right but the execution was due for a failure against the Proteas’ attack laden with two of the fastest pacers in world cricket at present. While they wanted to attack on the front foot, they struggled to even defend on the back foot. By the end of the powerplay, they were 28 for three. Soumya Sarkar, taking Shakib Al Hasan's place at three and Mushfiqur Rahim, Bangladesh’s most experienced player in the absence of Shakib, were both gone for zero.
Rahim’s dismissal summed up Bangladesh’s struggles. Trying to ride the bounce, he poked at a ball he could have left. Last ball of the eighth over, skipper Mahmudullah suffered the same fate. Bangladesh's batting appeared like a fish out of water in front of express pace.
It is T20 cricket but sometimes conditions offer circumstances where leaving the ball is a good option, especially when you are not trying to score. None of the Bangladeshi batters attempted to leave the ball on length. Instead they wanted to ride the bounce for some reason. It also presents their murky state of mind, befuddled by the pace they don’t often face.
Bangladesh have faltered whenever any attribute of pace bowling has taken over the conditions. They returned winless from their last tours of South Africa and New Zealand, including the practice games, and were pasted during the two-match Test series in India. The second Test was a day-night contest in Kolkata where the pink ball swung for the entirety of the Test.
Here, playing for their pride, they were bruised to 84 all out. The writing is on the wall for Bangladesh. They are dwindling against pace irrespective of the format and needs to pull up their socks to compete upto the level they want to.
Rabada returns to raging best
With figures of 3 for 20, there is no question today was the best we have seen Kagiso Rabada bowl in a long long time. The question is the duration of the long time. Last year, he averaged 57 runs per wicket in five T20Is. This year, his bowling average was a much better 29.8 but still nowhere near a bowler of his calibre.
He had lost his role as a death overs specialist in his IPL franchise and was rather used in the middle-overs. He was not doing much in the powerplay as well, something you would expect from your lead bowler. Before today, he had only 13 wickets in 33 T20s this year, bowling nearly 50 overs in the powerplay.
Rabada added significantly to that number today, dismantling Bangladesh’s top-order in his new ball spell. The nature of the pitch provided him the clarity on length. He bombarded Bangladesh with high pace and bouncy short length deliveries. The one wicket ball in the slot area hit Sarkar on the boot, evading his bat on a late in-swing curve. It was everything you would ask from your pace bowler. Bangladesh’s incapability to handle pace added the glitz to his show.
"I bowled three overs upfront and there was a bit of bounce, a bit of seam movement and some swing. The conditions were in my favour and all I had to do was get the ball in the right area," Rabada explained later.
He showed South Africa the area to hit on this track. He bowled three overs upfront, only for the second time while bowling first in T20s since 2017. Tabraiz Shamsi, the number one ranked T20I bowler, was introduced in the 12th over of the innings.
In a cakewalk of a win, Rabada hitting form is the biggest takeaway for the Proteas. Heading back to the South Africa’s close shave against Sri Lanka, Rabada conceded 0/32 in his three overs in a match where the average run-rate was 7.2. However, Rabada exhibited fire with his emotions when David Miller carted the match-winning sixes in the final over. They were unprecedented emotions since he received a one match ban for screaming in Steve Smith’s face in 2018. The same translated into his bowling today and South Africa would hope the fire is ablaze for the rest of the tournament.