“We didn’t want to think of this as a World Cup game and get overawed by the occasion.” © ICC
There is a bit of fire about Liam Smith. Perhaps it was the pent up adrenaline after completing his first hundred at the under-19 level, or maybe even cramps on his leg that was bothering him. Or it just could be that South Africa’s 43-run loss to Bangladesh was hurting him even more.
Standing few meters away from Smith was Nazmul Hossain Shanto, whose sparkling 73 set up Bangladesh’s win. He wasn’t beaming, but his body language had a mild strut to it. Upright, almost cocksure.
Smith wasn’t exactly seething, but it was evident that the loss didn’t sit right with him, like it didn’t with Tony de Zorzi, the captain, and the rest of his team.
It was a challenging day for the defending champions, and Smith played well throughout his nearly three-hour stay. His suppleness at the crease caught the eye, considering a lot of the cricket he’s played in his flourishing career has come on surfaces with more pace and bounce.
He was good at using the depth of the crease and on occasions looked to dominate during his 146-ball innings that had nine fours and a six. Forty-seven singles and two twos punctuated his effort which could have been a match-winning effort had there been a couple of big partnerships.
Smith was left to mostly play the anchor role before trying to up the ante at the end, but his innings was cut short courtesy a brilliant catch at cover by his counterpart Mehedi Hasan. Smith said the weather conditions were a bit challenging, even as he seemed to have worked out Bangladesh’s bowling quite well.
“It is extremely hot,” Smith told ESPNcricinfo. “You do get tired quite quickly. The bowlers are playing at their home ground so they know how to bowl here, so it was quite difficult. We played against Bangladesh before (the two teams played two seven-match series in 2015), so we were well prepared. However, he was left to rue the lack of partnerships.
“Only one of their bowlers has changed and we knew the pitches when practicing here. We did try [to build partnerships] so I can’t blame us. We would have won the game if we built bigger partnerships.”
For Bangladesh, who displayed tremendous energy on the field and were on cruise control with the bat, this had been a highly anticipated game. Shanto, who was also part of the 2014 Under-19 World Cup squad, said he urged the rest of his teammates to not get overawed by the occasion. After all, they had beaten the same opponent in 11 out of 14 games last year.
“There was a bit of nervousness today because we have some new guys in the team,” he said. “But at training yesterday and before we took the field, the only thing we talked about was to play our normal game. We can’t think of it as a World Cup game.
“The experience of playing against them helped us. We knew where they would bowl and the strength of their batsmen. The wicket was for a 240-250 score batting first. The ball did stop a bit and scoring runs freely wasn’t easy but I think my own experience at this level helped me today. I knew what to do in this situation,” he said.
Shanto said that he initially tried to base his innings on ones and twos, but didn’t hesitate to put the ball balls away. He struck four boundaries and three sixes in all during his 82-ball innings. “My first thought was to rotate the strike and only latch on to the bad balls,” he explained. “When we lost a couple of wickets, I thought I wouldn’t go for the shots but go ahead with singles. But it was hard to pick singles because the wicket was stopping a bit and they were fielding very well.”
Bangladesh’s technical advisor Stuart Law said while Shanto stuck to the task expected of him, it would have been better if one of him, Pinak Ghosh and Joyraz Sheik carried on to make a big score. “This is Shanto’s job. He has instructions to bat through. He took his time but once he got in, he played some beautiful shots,” Law said. “It was disappointing that one or two others weren’t able to push on and get a really big score. We thought 241 would be tough to get if we bowled well.
“I think South Africa bowled and fielded well to restrict us to 240. Their cover and midwicket cut off a lot of runs. I think we did what we could. We saw Smith get a 100. If we get one of our top-order to do that, we will get close to 300 runs.”
It would be easy to think that Smith’s 100 went in vain but he hardly had anyone supporting him. Shanto however had Sheik and Mehedi at the other end making sure he didn’t have to do all the running.
It was ultimately the difference in outcome between two splendid batting efforts.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo’s Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo