For any subcontinental team, South Africa are probably the toughest place to play Test cricket. Asian teams always find it difficult to adjust with the pace and bounce of the pitches in the ‘Rainbow Nation’. However, the wicket which Bangladesh got in the Potchefstroom Test did not have the kind of venom which was expected before the start of the series. It was on the slower side and a lot of experts believed the Tigers could at least compete here.
Yet, in the end, we experienced a meek surrender. After winning the toss on that flat track, a 333-run defeat was not expected from this Bangladesh side, which registered Test victories against England, Sri Lanka and Australia in recent past.
Presently, Bangladesh cricket is going through a period of renaissance. They have already established themselves as a consistent unit on home conditions and now the challenge for them is to carry this success abroad.
However, their overseas record continues to be substandard. They may have been a force to reckon with in home Tests, but abroad, the Tigers still look like a fish out of water. In their Test history, Bangladesh have only beaten Zimbabwe and a depleted West Indies outside Asia.
Now, coach Chandika Hathurusingha and team management is desperate to re-write this record, and in this context, the ongoing tour of South Africa is considered to have a huge significance. The likes of Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim have repeatedly talked about the importance of doing well in South Africa in recent media interactions.
However, both Tamim, Mushfiqur and the team management are very much aware of the area where exactly the problem lies for this team when it comes to winning Test matches on challenging conditions.
If you do a postmortem of their recent Test matches outside Asia including the one in Potchefstroom, it can be easily found out that the problem lies in bowling, especially in the pace department.
On spin-friendly wickets the spin-trio of Mehedi Hasan Miraz, Shakib Al Hasan and Taijul Islam take the bulk of the responsibilities. But on wickets that do not turn much, Bangladesh tend to struggle to take 20 wickets, because of a significant lack of experience, exposure and discipline in the pace department.
It happened in Wellington earlier this year, when they lost the Test match despite scoring 595 in the first innings and now here in Potchefstroom their bowlers could only manage to take 8 for 743 in the entire game. Bangladesh played three pacers, Taskin Ahmed, Mustafizur Rahim and Shafiul Islam, but collectively they took only five scalps in the match. In fact, Taskin, the fastest of amongst the trio, went wicketless after bowling 32 overs in the game.
If you wish to compete against South Africa at their own backward, you certainly need a better effort from the pacers.
In the first innings, the likes of Dean Alger, debutant Aiden Markram and Hashim Amla were just milking the harmless Bangladesh bowling with ease. Forget about troubling the batsmen, none of the Bangladeshi pacers could manage to hit the right areas consistently. Instead, they were leaking runs on that slow wicket and that hurt the visitors' gameplan.
“At least they could have bowled in the right line and length, if not taking wickets. This skill gets you to play for the national team. Even I could have bowled two balls out of six in the right place. The bowlers disappointed me a lot in the first innings. A team benefits if you can at least contain the runs when you can't take the wickets,” captain Mushfiqur did not shy away from taking a dig out of his bowlers in his post-match press conference.
In fact, he further went onto add that his pace bowling department has not seen the kind of improvement which the batsmen have done in recent years.
"Our bowling unit hasn't improved like our batting has over the last five years. They must have the hunger to do well. They can, at least, bowl in the right areas; forget about swinging the ball both ways. You don't need a coach to help you if you want to do it yourself. You represent your country to bowl five out of six balls in the right place. We have a lot to learn as a bowling unit and for that the bowlers need to show the passion."
When the captain questions the skills of his own teammates, then one has to agree that there is a serious issue which needs immediate attention. Now the onus is on Courtney Walsh, who is Bangladesh’s bowling coach to come out with a better bowling plan in the next game. However, he can only advise, the implementation depends on the skills of the players.
Of late, there has been a lot of talk in the Bangladesh cricket fraternity regarding Shakib temporarily opting himself out of Test cricket. Missing one of the top all-rounders in the world was certainly a serious blow for Mushfiqur’s team ahead of this challenging tour. But even without him, the Tigers currently have a settled batting lineup with plenty of experienced cricketers, who are well capable of getting the runs in most parts of the globe. But without having a bowling unit, which is capable of bowling out the opposition twice, there is no solution to Bangladesh’s misery in Test cricket overseas.
The second Test starts at Bloemfontein on 6 October and the think tank is expected to bring back Rubel Hossain and youngster Subashis Roy, who was Bangladesh’s best bowler in the warm-up tie prior to the first Test, in the playing XI.
Will that make a difference?
Well, time will tell.