Day 4 of 5
South Africa 496/3 dec and 247/6 dec
Bangladesh 320 and 49/3
POTCHEFSTROOM – Morné Morkel turned to umpire Chris Gaffaney, took his cap, handed the official the ball and trudged off the field two balls into his sixth over.
It was final act after a miserable 20 minutes that included yet another wicket being denied him by a no-ball.
It wasn’t immediately apparent what ailed Morkel, but it was later revealed that he’d be going for scans on Monday morning to examine a side strain.
Coming less than a year after a debilitating back injury, which he thought would cost him an extension of his career, this was a blow Morkel could do without.
The same goes for new coach Ottis Gibson and the Proteas, who may have to cobble together an attack for the second Test in Bloemfontein starting on Friday if the scans reveal further bad news for Morkel.
Dale Steyn (shoulder) and Vernon Philander (back) are expected to return soon, but both need some game time in domestic cricket under their belts first, while Chris Morris (back) is hoping to return for the T20 matches against the Bangladeshis at the end of the month.
And it’s not just the established players, as young Lungi Ngidi is among the walking wounded too, with no word about a return soon.
The Proteas face two big Test series later this summer against India and Australia, and need to empty the treatment tables if they are to offer a proper challenge in those encounters.
It is cause for grave concern for the new coach as he expressed last week, but he can ill-afford that those players who have had problems before the ones that currently ail them, rush back.
For now there’s a Test to be won here, and seven wickets still to get. That task would have been made easier had Morkel not erred in overstepping when he knocked out the middle stump of Bangladesh’s best batsman, captain Mushfiqur Rahim.
A bowler short, Faf du Plessis also needs to keep one eye on Monday’s weather, with intermittent showers being forecast in this region.
On Sunday, the Proteas skipper 81 (off 101 balls, 6x4, 1x6) and Temba Bavuma 71 (107 balls, 7x4) shared a sprightly partnership of 152 for the fourth wicket as South Africa stretched their lead beyond 400, both made half-centuries and both fell to the part-time left-arm spin of Mominul Haque, Bavuma’s to a fine bit of keeping by Liton Das.
South Africa dallied before Du Plessis eventually declared, setting Bangladesh an unachievable 424 to win.
Morkel knocked back Tamim Iqbal’s off-stump when the left hander tried to leave the ball, while Mominul, who’d scored 77 in the first innings, was unlucky to be adjudged lbw to the second ball he faced.
Replays suggested he would have had a reprieve had Bangladesh challenged Gaffaney’s decision.
Bangladesh were 0/2 after that first over, and should have been 6/3 at the start of the third, when Morkel bowled that peach to Mushfiqur.
However, television replays showed that no part of his front foot was behind the popping crease, allowing the Bangladeshi skipper a reprieve.
Another chance was gifted to the touring team when Imrul Kayes was dropped on six by Du Plessis – a chance he should take, given his catching ability.
With Morkel off the field, Duanne Olivier had to supplement the remaining overs at the City End, but the next wicket went to the impressive Keshav Maharaj, who slid one on straight that Kayes edged to Quinton de Kock.
Maharaj will have a vital role to play on Monday, as his accuracy will be crucial on a surface that’s offering him plenty of assistance.
Already on Sunday he was getting the ball to jump disconcertingly out of the rough, but only bowling it in those areas won’t be sufficient.
He is a smart and resourceful player, though, and Du Plessis will lean heavily on him, especially in Morkel’s absence.