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Tigers reluctant to bare teeth

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Bangladesh_South_Africa_Test_CricketNo matter how aesthetically pleasing a Dale Steyn inswinger is or how many times you hit refresh on a video of a Virat Kohli cover drive, cricket will forever be a game of numbers. Cold, emotionless numbers.

There were plenty of numbers that came out of the first Test between South Africa and Bangladesh, at Senwes Park in Potchefstroom, that should concern fans of the Tigers.

For starters there’s 333 – the margin of defeat for the tourists; 90 – the score all eleven of their batsmen could muster between them in their second innings before being bundled out; 41 – the amount of runs their last seven wickets were worth on the morning of the final day; 705 – the number of deliveries sent down by seven Bangladeshi bowlers in South Africa’s first innings before one of them managed to bag a wicket.

That last one is the most damning. Not because it demonstrates how toothless the visiting bowlers were on a near catatonic pitch (it does) but for the context surrounding that gargantuan figure. You see, cricket may be about numbers, but they do not always tell the full story.

 

The scorebooks will forever reflect that Test skipper Mushfiqur Rahim elected to bowl first after winning the toss but there will be no record of the bemused and elated expression his opponent Faf du Plessis wore on his face. The South African captain admitted that he would have immediately batted first if given the chance and no one watching on TV or settling in around the ground would have argued.

 

The wind was up in Potch, potentially limiting any swing through the air that might have been on offer, the sun was out and the pitch was flat. So just what was Mushfiqur Rahim thinking?

The brains trust in the Bangladeshi dressing room might argue otherwise, but the decision smacked of insecurity and fear rather than a coherent plan to rip through the South African top order. The message from the visitors seemed to be, “We don’t back ourselves. We don’t want to start this series staring at 40-5 against Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel. We don’t want to be humiliated yet again.”

The last time the two sides met here in 2002 (incidentally the only other Test played at the ground) Khaled Mashud won the toss and elected to bat first. After a solid start the visitors were rolled for 215 before Herchelle Gibbs, Gary Kirsten and Jacques Kallis all scored hundreds and the South Africans skittled Bangladesh a second time for just 107 to claim an innings and 160 run win.

But surely the ghosts of 15 years ago do not haunt this energised and improved team? Recent victories over England, Sri Lanka and Australia have fuelled a growing sense of optimism that the Asian minnows are finally ready to hold their heads high at the big table of Test cricket.

 

Granted, the two wins over England and Australia were secured on their own dusty, turning tracks and overcoming this current crop of Sri Lankans does not represent the momentous accomplishment it once did, but considering three of Bangladesh’s ten Test victories have come in their past nine matches, their recent confidence was not unfounded.

 

Here was an opportunity to make a statement on foreign soil. A clear message of intent would have been sent by showing a bit of gumption and taking on the tall, menacing South African quicks.

Instead they sent their hosts in to bat and watched Dean Elgar (199) and Aiden Markram (97) on debut amass 196 for the opening stand – the 6th highest score for the first wicket after a side has been asked to bat first. Hashim Amla (137) compounded matters by registering the easiest of his 27 Test centuries as the Proteas piled on 496-3d.

The Tigers were solid in their reply and passed their highest score on South African soil with a respectable 320, but with the pitch starting to produce inconstant bounce, the game was over before it could become a contest.

On the cusp of a bold new era, Bangladesh displayed all the self-doubt and timidity that has kept them scrapping amongst the lightweights of the game despite their obvious potential. If they are to ever emerge as a real force in the longest format, a change in attitude rather than application will be required.

The teams head to Bloemfontein next and no one is expecting Bangladesh to secure their first win over South Africa at the 12th time of asking. But if the rest of the cricketing world is expected to take this side seriously, they need to demonstrate more willingness to front up to the rigours of Test cricket in all conditions.

 

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Daniel is a freelance sports journalist from Johannesburg who would always rather be watching Test ...

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