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Learning the hard way in South Africa

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South_Africa_Bangladesh_Test_CricketBangladesh are still rising. They are still climbing up the ladder in international cricket to reach the level that would make them good enough to challenge the superpowers of the game every time they take them on in the field. They are still in quest of the day the world can call them 'Giants' instead of 'Giant Killers'. And their ongoing tour of South Africa has just shown how much the players, especially the bowlers, have to learn to reach the highest level.

The Tigers, as a team, have a very good mixture of youth and experience. They have got tremendous experience in the likes of Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim, Shakib Al Hasan and Mashrafe Montaza to go with the young players like Soumya Sarkar, Taskin Ahmed, Mustafizur Rahman and others. Yet they fail to come out on top of the bigger sides most of the times. The reason is the inexperience of even the experienced players in overseas conditions.

In their last two decades of international cricket, Bangladesh have played only a handful of matches in overseas conditions. And the number becomes far lower when it comes to playing in challenging South African conditions. The Bangladeshi batsmen have somehow done a decent job in these conditions, that too against a dangerous South African side. However, the bowlers have faltered every time on this tour. Their 10-wicket thumping at the hands of the hosts in the first ODI even after putting up a target of 279 runs suggests that the bowlers are nowhere near the bowling levels of other teams.

While the Test series turned out to be a rather dull affair for pundits and Bangladeshi fans alike, everyone expected them to come out with a better attitude at least in the ODIs. While the skipper and the other batsmen showed the stomach for a fight, the bowlers didn't seem to have learned anything from the thumping they received in the Test series.

 

They lost the first Test against the hosts by a big margin of 334 runs and the second Test by an innings defeat. Chasing down a lead of around 500 runs is always a tough ask for any team in Tests. And the Bangladeshi batsmen were no different. What it underlines is the inability of the Bangladeshi bowlers to claim all 10 wickets in each innings. They have played 6 Tests in South Africa over the years and have lost all six, five of them resulting in innings defeats. Their ODI record doesn't present a different picture either. Of the 12 ODIs they have played against the hosts in South Africa, they have lost 11 of them with one no result.

 

Moreover, they have never bowled South Africa out at home in any ODI. These facts again highlight how average or poor is the ability to adapt that the bowlers have shown.

There is no doubt that Bangladesh have proven themselves a tough team to beat in their own den over the past couple of years. Their main weapon has been spin bowling in the familiar home conditions with which they have strangled even the best of opponents, including England and Australia. They have barely relied on pace in home conditions.

However, in South African conditions, pace bowling is the most effective option on the fast and bouncy tracks. Spin can only play a supporting role to the pacers. If the pacers don't perform well, there is little or no chance for the spinners to put the batsmen under any kind of pressure. This is where Bangladesh have faltered. Their over-reliance on spin has hurt them badly. The pacers didn't seem to be at all ready for the challenge.

Bangladesh have fond memories of pacers winning them matches in recent times. Mustafizur Rahman tearing an opposition like India apart at home, Rubel Hossain launching them to their first ever World Cup quarter final in 2015 with a superb spell and almost all the bowlers doing well in their recent quest to the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy earlier this year are the most memorable instances. However, South Africa is not that easy a place for bowlers from other teams. To make the ball dance to your tunes, you have to respect the conditions. Or the conditions won't respect you.

 

The conditions in South Africa are not conducive to swing. What it presents is pace and bounce off the tracks. And if a bowler can get his line and length right, he can tear apart the opposition with the help of raw pace itself. Kagiso Rabada is a prime example of that kind of bowling. He pitches the deliveries just short of good length consistently with a high arm action and raw pace. And the results are there for the showing.

 

The Bangladeshi bowlers have been inconsistent and it has seemed like they haven't yet found their perfect line and length on this tour. They have talent in pacers like Taskin Ahmed, Rubel Hossain and no doubt in Mustafizur. Yet they have been intimidated by the class of the South African batsmen and that has led to failure in execution of their plans. The Proteas batsmen have never allowed the Tigers' bowlers to settle in any of the matches on this tour so far. They have been ruthless and shown no mercy at all. That has affected the mindset of the Bangladeshi pacers and led to their low confidence.

However, that is international cricket. Players have to rise up against all odds, defeat their own demons and take adversity in their stride to be the best in the business. The young Bangladeshi pacers also need to keep faith and confidence in their own abilities. If they do well the spinners will come into play and the batsmen can play more freely.

It's good that they are learning their lessons the hard way on this tour. The results may look ugly at present but it'll help them to become better players in the long run. Some years down the line they would reflect on this tour and recall how it helped them to become better bowlers.

 

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Prasenjit, a techie by profession and Sports writer by passion, hails from the 'City of Joy'-Kolkat...

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