South Africa is a diamond mine for bowlers willing to put in the hard yards. The country boasts of a rich history of fast bowlers who have thrived on pitches tailor-made to their strengths. When other nations visit South Africa on tour, the line-up is packed with fast bowlers. As Bangladesh set out on their first assignment outside the sub-continent since playing New Zealand, the pressure is on their quicker men to deliver.
The vast gap between the two teams in Tests is well known. The last time Bangladesh toured South Africa – in 2008 – they lost by an innings in both Tests. Even in 2002, the result was no different. If the trend has to change, which Bangladesh believe will change, their bowlers have to bowl out South Africa and pick 20 wickets.
This is no easy task against a team that has a domineering line-up of exceptional Test batsmen. The likes of Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar and Temba Bavuma are itching to get out there and avenge the series loss to England. That they would come hard at the Bangladesh bowlers is without a grain of doubt certain.
But do the sub-continental Tigers have it in them to give them a taste of their own medicine?
In foresight, Bangladesh’s plan should be to stick to their strengths – the spinners – which also happens to be South Africa’s weakness. But on the green tracks expected to be laid out at Potchefstroom and Bloemfontein, the tactic could backfire horribly.
The gigantic presence of Shakib-al-Hasan, who has opted out of the tour, will affect Bangladesh big time but they cannot afford to sit back and cry over spilt milk. What’s done is done and the time has come for them to move on from the shock and present their best eleven to the eagerly awaiting Proteas.
Bangladesh have picked two main spinners and five fast bowlers in their touring party. Mehidy Hasan Miraz and Taijul Islam are the two nominated spinners but only one of them is likely to play unless Bangladesh find something in the pitch that encourages turn. The sole spinner is likely to be Mehidy given his performance in New Zealand was commendable.
Of the five fast bowlers lined up – Mustafizur Rehman, Taskin Ahmed, Subashis Roy, Rubel Hossain and Shafiul Islam – three are likely to start but who among them sits out will be a poser for the selectors.
Bangladeshi quicks have had a woeful run in Test cricket. Since 2014, they have just one fast bowler in the top 100 wicket-taker – Mustafizur Rehman with 17 scalps in six Tests at 23.47. Now, those are pretty impressive numbers for a fast bowler, especially taking into consideration the conditions he has bowled in.
But take a moment to analyse the record of his compatriots since 2014 in Tests. Shafiul, Taskin, Rubel and Subashis Roy have averages of 36.14, 80.71, 77.66 and 57.83 in Tests in the last three years (Full numbers in table). Those are appalling numbers for a side which prides on its development in the past few years.
That none of their seamers have played more than six Tests in three years shows the kind of inconsistencies they have had in the pace bowling front.
Given that their biggest challenge on this tour would be bowl out South Africa twice, Bangladesh will need to forget this history and focus on the task at hand. To make up for their hideous record and inconsistencies, Courtney Walsh, the Bangladesh bowling coach will need to sit down with his pace bowlers and plot against each of South Africa’s batsmen.
Consistency in line and length
Patience is a virtue. There are volumes written on the temperament and composure batsmen need to show when batting on quicker wickets. But what about the fast bowlers themselves? When pitted against meticulous, skilfull and organised batsmen, the quicker men need to have patience and maturity even though the pitch is there to assist them.
Bangladesh pacers will need to focus on maintaining their line and length against the South African batsmen. Consistency in the channel of attack will directly lead to building up the pressure. It is easy to get carried away by the extra zip and bounce on offer and land the ball short, but sticking to their plans will be quite important for the seamers.
Specific plan to specific batsmen
South Africa have a pretty strong batting line-up and unless Bangladesh have specific plans for each of their batsmen, things can go haywire. The seamers will need to bowl well with the new ball in hand and try and generate breakthroughs early on which will put pressure on South Africa’s middle-order.
Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram are likely to open and both love playing the ball on the back-foot. The new ball aids swing and if the seamers can pitch it up and generate movement in the air, the openers will be tested. Amla, on the other hand, hates that inward movement from left-arm seamers and Mustafizur should be tasked with exploiting that weakness.
du Plessis and Bavuma are terrific Test batsmen with immense patience and composure. Breaking their bubble will be quite important to bring de Kock into the crease before the second new ball is taken. Mehidy is the right man to give the ball to as soon as de Kock enters.
Jeetan Patel had immense success against the wicket-keeper batsman in New Zealand early in his innings. Mehidy would do well to watch a few videos on those dismissals. If Bangladesh can quieten de Kock they can not only put South Africa’s lower middle-order under pressure but also burst Bavuma’s bubble. The solid Bavuma loves to take his time at the crease and of de Kock is teeing off at the other end, there is little pressure on him to up the ante.
Holding one end up and attacking from the other
Test cricket is all about plotting and planning and Bangladesh will need to get their paperwork absolutely right before that first Test. Attacking from end while the spinner holds up another is a tried and tested tactic on greener wickets and Bangladesh will definitely hope that Mehidy is capable of doing it.
They can also use Mustafizur Rehman in short bursts, which would enable him to go full tilt every time he comes on to bowl. But this would be possible only if the other seamers manage to tighten their lines and gift no freebies.
Taskin Ahmed is another bowler that Bangladesh need to utilise on the bouncy South African wickets. He is an X-factor seamer and has that extra zip that could trouble batsmen, especially when the pitch aids pace. Taskin could also be an ideal candidate to be used in short bursts. Shafiul, who has had decent numbers, and Rubel Hossain will fight it out for the third seamer slot.
Angle of attack
This is one area very few bowlers venture into in recent times in Test cricket. Varying the angle of attack from the crease can do wonders on pitches that aid seam and swing. Mustafizur can try and come around the wicket to spice things up and give South Africa something different.
Taskin and Shafiul can also change their approach to the wicket and bowl from a wider angle while bringing the ball in. The natural angle would take the ball away from the left-hander and into the right-hander. If the pitch aids seam movement, this could put batsmen in quite a fix.
Walsh will, however, need to work out of his skin to extract that kind of control from his seamers. Switching plans and angles of attack will require exceptional control over one’s bowling and the Bangladesh quicks will need to fine tune on that.