BLOEMFONTEIN – At the end of the sixth over, Mushfiqur Rahim lent down to pick up the ball as it nestled against the boundary cushion at long-off – he let out a sigh and tossed it back to a teammate... a long and painful day was just beginning.
The bowler of that sixth over was Soumya Sarkar, the fourth bowler Mushfiqur had employed by that stage of the South African innings.
The boundary, an easy off-drive by Dean Elgar, was the sixth that had been struck to that point.
Bangladesh had won the toss – again. Mushfiqur had chosen to bowl – again. It was the wrong decision – again – as the Proteas piled on 428/3 on day one of the second Test on Friday.
Choosing to bowl was a decision based on fear, which makes it hard to reconcile this Bangladesh side with the one that’s been so powerful at home recently.
In both Tests, Mushfiqur has based his decision to bowl on the reputation of South African pitches, not the pitches that have been presented to him here and in Potchefstroom.
That reputation is based on pace and bounce and it is a scary one for players from the sub-continent. The two pitches used in this series have had neither pace nor bounce.
Two weeks ago, the players from the Cape Cobras and the Knights split six hundreds and scored over 1 000 runs in two innings at this ground.
Even though the Proteas had asked for extra grass to be left on this surface, by the time Mushfiqur and his counterpart Faf du Plessis were present for the toss, it was more brown than green.
“Nine times out of 10 you will bat first,” said Du Plessis after his side had been inserted. “It is a very normal cricket wicket.”
It meant his very young attack, led by 22-year-old Kagiso Rabada, could put their feet up for the day.
It meant his young opening batsman, Aiden Markram – playing just his second Test – had an opportunity to make up for missing out on a first Test century on his debut. It meant a lot of pain for Mushfiqur and his bowlers.
And while Mushfiqur deserves admonishment for erring again at the toss, his bowlers certainly didn’t help their captain try and atone for that error.
With the exception of Mustafizur Rahman and later Rubel Hossain, Bangladesh’s bowling was awful.
Taijul Islam, the left-arm spinner, offered no control. In contrast, he offered lots of boundary balls – 14 came off his bowling.
Shubhashis Roy’s first over was a maiden, his second went for 15 and he was out of the attack. By the time stumps were drawn, Mushfiqur had used eight bowlers and they had conceded 58 boundaries.
The only pressure for Elgar and Markram was to avoid getting out to this filth. Elgar, in top form and confident, feasted, scoring the fastest half-century of his career and turning it into the fastest hundred of his career.
Markram was more circumspect. Perhaps he was surprised at how poor Bangladesh bowled – “Test cricket was supposed to hard”, every expert would have told him.
And to be fair it will be hard, but when it’s as easy as it was Friday, it’s best you cash in.
And Markram did just that registering that maiden Test century, raising both arms and soaking up the applause from his teammates and the new coach.
The opening pair have produced back-to-back century stands, a confidence booster the team so desperately needed after a difficult 2017 in that department.
Bangladesh briefly pulled themselves together before tea when Mushfiqur called on his quicks to utilise the bouncer.
Elgar should have been caught by the wicket-keeper on 110, but was caught at deep fine leg after making 113 - a more fluent innings than what he’s accustomed to playing.
Markram fell to the ball of the day from Robel for 143 and when Temba Bavuma gifted his wicket to Subhashis for seven, South Africa had lost three wickets for 45 runs in eight overs.
Hashim Amla (89 not out) and Faf du Plessis (62 not out) snuffed out Bangladesh’s fightback with a 140-run stand.
It was the second highest number of runs scored on the first day of a Test by South Africa, bettered only by the 445 scored in the 2003 New Year’s Test against Pakistan at Newlands.