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Bangladesh a walkover for SA?

Robbie Robertson once spoke of the trauma inflicted on The Band by touring with Bob Dylan during his switch from acoustic folk music to electric rock’n’roll. ‘We just got booed around the world,” he said.

Imagine, then, what it must be like to be an international cricketer for Bangladesh.

Given Test status in June 2000, Bangladesh began their 56th Test on Wednesday against South Africa in Bloemfontein.

Their record to date reads: played 55, won one, drawn six, lost 48. This is the team that Proteas coach Mickey Arthur calls ‘a decent side” and hopes will give his team a stern enough Test to hone his players’ talents for the Australian trip that lies ahead.

They certainly didn’t look a decent side in the one-day series, which is understandable because, once again, their record speaks for itself.

The official statistics credit Bangladesh with 41 wins from 192 matches. But if you remove the games against the likes of Bermuda, Hong Kong and Zimbabwe (who they have beaten 15 times) and restrict it to the proper Test-playing nations (a definition which has not suited Zimbabwe for five years), the total is seven.

So in eight years of play with the big boys, Bangladesh have won eight games of cricket. Not exactly a great return on the investment of the International Cricket Council.

The return has come in the rewriting of record books in favour of batsmen and bowlers from opposing teams.

As an example, Graeme Smith has cause to remember his first Test against Bangladesh. At Buffalo Park in East London in October 2002 Smith scored 200 not out in South Africa’s only innings of 529.

He thus surpassed Graeme Pollock to become the youngest South African to hit a Test double century. The difference was that Pollock did it against Australia at Newlands. Which is not to denigrate Smith’s achievement, but merely to emphasise that the game should be about something other than statistics.

So although Arthur may hope for a decent game in Bloemfontein, the reality is that if the Proteas have to bat more than once they will have underachieved.

The pitch is unlikely to be radically different from the one that did duty in the MTN domestic championship last Friday. The Eagles put up 334 for four and the Titans replied with 335 for three, winning with four-and-a-half overs to spare.

That’s 669 for seven in 85,2 overs, but if you think that means South Africa’s bowlers will struggle to dismiss Bangladeshi batsmen, think again.

Bangladesh do not thrive on hostile pace bowling and their top order will have been having sleepless nights about combating Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.

The intriguing question will be how Steyn and Morkel contrive to take their wickets. Steyn relies on swing, while Morkel’s chief weapon is steepling bounce. Is it possible that the coaching staff, bolstered this week by Duncan Fletcher, is thinking two Test matches ahead?

In mid-December the Proteas will begin their tour of Australia with a Test at the WACA ground in Perth. It may no longer be the hardest and fastest pitch in the world, but it remains a ground where fast bowlers sometimes underperform when they see the way the ball flies through to the wicketkeeper.

The trick at the WACA is to ignore the bounce and bowl a fuller length. Generations of Western Australian players learned to leave the ball on length, knowing that their stumps were safe against the quicks if it pitched much short of a good length.

They also learned to cut and pull because of the consistency of the bounce.

It would be relatively easy, despite the quality of the Bloemfontein pitch, for South Africa to bounce out Bangladesh, but by doing so they would achieve little.

Far better for the team’s psyche ahead of the Australian tour would be to have players bowled, LBW or caught in the slips than by top edges to long leg, fends to short leg and face-preserving nicks to the keeper.

For Morkel in particular, the chance to practise bowling out of his ‘back of a length” comfort zone should be grabbed with both hands. He has the potential to be a series winner in Australia, but he won’t do it by intimidation alone.

Australia may be in decline, but their batting remains strong and forthright. They will take Morkel on and he will be better prepared for the onslaught if he has more than one string to his bow.

Steyn, who is still fighting his way back from debilitating illness, should concentrate on what made him the international cricketer of the year last season. He must harness his outswing and not worry about striving for extreme pace. The time for the latter will come soon enough, but it is not needed against Bangladesh.

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