Shahadat Hossain was the bowling hero as Bangladesh gained a valuable 22-run lead but Dale Steyn produced another superb new-ball spell as South Africa fought back before tea on the second day. Steyn picked up all three wickets to fall as Bangladesh struggled to 48 by the interval.
Hossain, who bowled at lively pace and with tremendous control for career-best figures of 6 for 27, may have been the main man but the talking point of the day was provided by Mohammad Ashraful. By the time he brought himself on shortly before lunch, the momentum had swung towards South Africa, with AB de Villiers riding his luck to 46 and Johan Botha offering stout resistance.
But it all changed in the space of one ball. And what a ball it was. Ashraful is no Shane Warne, and after the ball left his fingers, it bounced twice before reaching de Villiers. He chose to play it from the crease, but could only top edge it back to the bowler. Cue massive celebrations from Bangladesh and no movement from de Villiers, who was convinced that it was a dead ball. Steve Bucknor finally sent him on his way though, much to the dismay of the South African dressing room.
Botha’s 91-ball vigil ended soon after, trapped lbw by Hossain, and when Mornè Morkel followed on the stroke of lunch, Bangladesh were poised to take a slender lead. They did too, with Hossain trapping Mark Boucher in front and then bowling Makhaya Ntini to complete an impressive spell.
Bangladesh hadn’t been in the ascendant when de Villiers was going strong. Coming to the crease after a shambolic mix-up sent Ashwell Prince on his way in the second over of the day, he quickly signaled his intent with drives, cuts and powerful pulls through midwicket. There was an element of good fortune too, with Ashraful, running back from mid-off, dropping a catch off Mohammad Rafique after de Villiers was on 30.
On a pitch where the odd ball stayed exceptionally low, concentration was crucial, and Botha played his part in a partnership that got South Africa back into the contest. He let de Villiers do the bulk of the scoring, but there was also a lovely on-drive off Rafique and an impudent reverse-sweep off Shakib Al Hasan in his innings of 25.
There was a phase in the session where the South Africans were becalmed for more than five overs, but once de Villiers smacked Shakib for a big six over midwicket and then took him for two fours in an over, the tide appeared to be turning. A bizarre dismissal though put paid to that.
South Africa needed breakthroughs quickly and Steyn provided them. Tamim Iqbal was cleaned up by a quick one, and after Shahriar Nafees had played a couple of lovely strokes square of the wicket, Steyn got one to shape back and catch him in front. Habibul Bashar, whose career is in freefall, followed soon after in similar fashion and it was left to Ashraful and Junaid Siddique to take the side through to the break with the match still in the balance.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo