Sport means many different things to many different people. In the West, what is meant to be an entertaining pursuit tends to veer between two extremes: a serious, methodical affair, analysed in severe and sombre tones, and a raucous booze-up. Watch a South Asian nation, however, and the celebratory, festival-like atmosphere is a spectacle unlike any other.
It helps, of course, if you win.
The carnival unfolding in the south London crucible of the Oval yesterday, as Bangladesh dashed to 330, the highest total of the tournament so far, was one of the best. By the halfway mark, the team having surpassed their highest one-day international total, the party was well under way, ignited by the majority, and vocal, Bangladesh crowd.
The result, a 21-run win and the closest game of the tournament so far, felt even closer than the scoreboard suggests. Bangladesh’s batsmen set the platform as their bowling, spearheaded by Mustafizur Rahman’s three for 67, just about withstood the weight of expectation thrust upon them. Dropped catches, bowed heads and last-minute nerves maintained the tension; just ask the Bangladesh fan chain-smoking around the back of the stands for the final 20 overs.
Shakib Al Hasan (75) and Mushfiqur Rahim (78) combined to post a record Bangladesh partnership in World Cup cricket of 142, but while they can flaunt the statistic, it was the manner in which their team built around them which should take the plaudits. For all the powerhitting and innovative shot selection adorning the modern game, the most impressive development is the way in which a wicket does not fluster the best batting sides.
We saw it with England, when Jason Roy and Joe Root appeared almost not to notice that Jonny Bairstow had fallen for a first-ball duck, and we saw it again yesterday. Gone are the days in which only set batsmen accelerate; Tamim Iqbal’s scratchy opening innings aside, Mushfiqur and Shakib were the only Bangladesh batsmen not to surpass the 100 strike rate. Seamless transitions are the new partnership platforms.
It has been a tough start to the tournament for the South Asian teams, but Bangladesh, once the minnows, have laid down a marker. South Africa, conforming to World Cup type, have adopted something of an enigmatic quality.
Tipped as a team to make the semi-finals, the Proteas will face India on Wednesday having lost two from two. Their record might be bad at World Cups, but never have they started so poorly.
Faf du Plessis, the captain, was not mincing words. “My style of captaincy has always been that there’s a line and if you don’t perform to that line there will be a lot of harsh words,” he promised.
“Today was not good enough. If guys think they can make excuses for performances like today they will be challenged – that’s a fact. All I can say is that we’ll keep fighting.
“I’m extremely disappointed, and gutted to say that all formats of our game at the moment are just not firing.”
Theirs is a capricious, unsettled team. In what is fast becoming the story of South African white-ball cricket, they have a production line from which some of the greats of the game have stemmed, but through which World Cup glory has alluded them. This version is no different; South Africa have some of the best in each discipline, and some of the worst.
Meanwhile, where Bangladesh in the past have had one or two standout players, they now have a wellrounded team. A score of 300-plus on a pitch with routinely lower totals to those in the rest of the country, as well as wickets spread liberally among the bowlers, proved that. This was no one-off dart, but a well-planned and well-executed innings, a good sign for the rest of the tournament.
When Quinton de Kock was run out in the 10th over for 23, South Africa’s innings was summed up in one moment. The crowd rose almost as one when the South African opener started, then stopped, then altogether gave up, stranded halfway down the pitch, out to a direct hit from wicketkeeper, Mushfiqur. What a day he was having.
Du Plessis looked to be playing responsibly until, with his first false shot, he danced down the track with his head to the heavens. Call South Africa unlucky if you will, as injuries to Hashim Amla and Lungi Ngidi provided a blow to both performance and morale. But you create your own luck, so the saying goes, and South Africa never looked in a position to create any of theirs.
• A version of this article was originally printed in The Telegraph on 3 June 2019.