170, 252, 215, 107, 153, 159, 250, 131
These aren’t mere numbers. They are Bangladesh’s totals in South Africa in Test cricket in their last two tours to the Rainbow Nation. Out of eight innings across four Tests (2 each in 2002 and 2008) Bangladesh have managed to score just three totals in excess of 200. There have been five instances of scores below 200 and in each of the four Tests, they have lost by an innings, which effectively means that South Africa haven’t batted more than once in any of the four Tests these two have played against each other in South Africa.
In fact, cut out the two rain-ruined Tests in 2015 between the two in Bangladesh, and South Africa have beaten the Tigers in eight out of eight Tests with seven of them by an innings and a few runs, underlining the vast difference between these sides in Test cricket.
As Bangladesh depart for their first tour of South Africa since 2008, quite a few things have changed for the sub-continental team. Bangladesh aren’t the kind of pushovers they once were. They are on the back of a couple of stunning wins in Test cricket having beaten Sri Lanka in their 100th Test match and Australia in the first match of the two-match Test series. They had also beaten England a year back in Bangladesh.
However, all of these victories have come on familiar conditions – dust bowls, flat tracks and crumbling wickets. In South Africa, they will get none of that. The fiery Kagiso Rabada, formidable Morne Morkel, immaculate Vernon Philander and raw Duanne Olivier wait to pounce on the hapless Bangladeshi batsmen.
“Some people may think we don’t have any chance against South Africa. But I don’t agree with them. We don’t have a very good record in South Africa. And very few of our players played in South Africa. It is a kind of place where everybody struggles. Maybe we also have to struggle. Personally, I think if you don’t believe in yourself, you won’t get any success. Firstly, we have to believe that it is possible for us to beat South Africa. We did not have this belief even three years ago”, Mushfiqur Rahim had told reporters before setting out for South Africa.
In one way, he is right. Bangladesh are definitely not minnows anymore and have found the temperament and composure to survive five days of Test cricket. But on a green mamba, that is likely to be laid out in the two Tests, their batsmen will be the key for Bangladesh.
Shakib-al-Hasan had requested for a break from Test cricket and is out of the series which puts further pressure on the Bangladesh batting. To their credit, they handled the searing pace of Cummins quite well in Bangladesh. But keeping out a relentless trio of dedicated seamers in some of the fastest wickets in the World will require some special efforts.
“We will find two weeks to prepare ourselves before the series in South Africa. Those days will bear great importance for us to cope with everything up there,” Chandika Hathurusingha had said.
Their batsmen will be under pressure to give the team totals that their bowlers can hope to exploit. Unless that happens, little could change from the 2008 drubbing they received in the country. In the lone warm-up game, Bangladesh managed a 300+ total against a South African Invitation XI but they still need to brush up on their batting techniques in the country.
Handling seam movement and swing
Bangladesh batsmen will need to front up against the new swinging ball. The likes of Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mominul Haque have good techniques but need to ensure that the younger guys get enough inputs before the Tests.
The South African pace bowlers are ever-threatening with their line of attack and they can make the new ball and the old ball talk equally well. This out Bangladesh in a strife. They haven’t really played outside the sub-continent in a long time (last series being in New Zealand) and without Shakib-al-Hasan, they might struggle against swing unless they work really hard to counter the threat.
Importance of back-foot technique
While playing the swinging ball is quite important, Bangladesh batsmen should remember that the short ball is as good a tactic as any against sub-continental teams. Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel are two bowlers who relish landing it short and the visiting batsmen can definitely expect music in their ears.
The back-foot technique is something which was brought to highlight even before the Australian series. It is all the more important with a battery of pace bowlers lining up to bowl at them on greener tracks.
Willingness to fight it out
As much as batting techniques, the composure of the Bangladesh batsmen will be under scrutiny in the two-match series. South African grounds have an intimidating atmosphere and their shrewd fast bowlers make it even more daunting.
The onus will be on some of their senior players to front up and cut the path for their younger batsmen to follow. That Shakib isn’t there is a huge blow for Bangladesh, but it only puts additional responsibility on the likes of Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mominul Haque. If they can show the South Africans that they are here to fight, a large portion of that pressure will be averted.