Bengal tigers ready to tear into Proteas

Rarely has there been a clearer illustration of the importance to a sports team of a cleanly motivated and prioritised administration than the Bangladesh national cricket team demonstrated to the rest of the world over the past six months.

Routing Zimbabwe in eight out of eight Tests and one-dayers last October could easily be dismissed as irrelevant, but eliminating England en route to the quarterfinals of the World Cup earlier this year made everyone sit up and take notice.

Bangladesh cricket history has plenty of “landmark” moments that turned out to be fool’s gold. These upsets heralded not a new era but merely an increase in the money- and influence-grubbing culture that has bedevilled the country’s progress since it was granted Test status at the turn of the millennium.

It was only then that a first-class structure worthy of the name was even introduced. That in itself is reason enough for why the team has struggled in Tests and succeeded sporadically in limited-overs cricket. But the major reason, undoubtedly, has been the status and wealth the game has afforded those who administer it.

Way back in the 1980s there was a club league in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, which often played to packed houses of 40 000-plus in the Bangabandu National Stadium and employed many international stars, mostly from Pakistan, on extremely generous packages. Former Pakistan captain Aamir Sohail has fond memories of his time in the league.


“The atmosphere was like a one-day international [ODI] but it was [local franchises] Gladiators against Baridhara; the crowd went crazy. We were very well paid and looked after like stars. It was an offer we were all very happy to accept,” recalls Sohail.

“Bangladesh should have made more progress as a Test nation, but there are many things that hold the players back. Pakistan can be complicated, but Bangladesh is more so.”

No waves of change
It would be trite and naive to suggest that everything has now changed, but there is undoubtedly a gentle lapping of realism rather than waves of high change in the administration. The vast majority of a population of 140-million are avid cricket followers, which makes advertising revenue and broadcast rights highly desirable. Bangladesh is, and has been for many decades, a mini-India in that respect. The progress and success of the national team has not been a priority, with huge income guaranteed regardless.

So perhaps, yet again, South Africa’s tour of the country that begins next week will signal the start of a new era. The locals are not setting their sights too high. Their first draw against Pakistan in nine attempts in Khulna two months ago was celebrated nationwide with no apology. It was a draw with honour, too, and a high-scoring one.

Flat, batting-friendly pitches will face the Proteas in both Chittagong and Mirpur, Dhaka, for the Test matches, with spin only seriously coming into play on the final two days. Survival will be straightforward, but run scoring will not be fluent and patience will be paramount.

A South African team made to scrape and scrounge for their runs will be victory enough for the home side. A South African team eager to avoid doing so by dominating too early may end up red-faced.

Slow starts
South Africa’s decade-long history of starting slowly on tours, both home and away, will be exacerbated by the conditions in Bangladesh, but coach Russell Domingo is confident that the decision not to hold a pre-tour camp of any description – either in Pretoria or even in Dhaka – will not backfire.

“We have spoken in great detail about the issue of slow starts over the past year and put it to bed. Our results have shown that we have overcome that perceived weakness,” Domingo said this week.

So the squad will assemble on Monday and fly the same day, as “cold” and, conventionally speaking, as underprepared as any Proteas squad of the past 20 years. Domingo, like predecessor Gary Kirsten, is convinced that the most important pre-paration takes place in the head, not in the nets. It certainly helps that the least important fixtures take place before the two Test matches, with two T20 internationals preceding three ODIs at the start of the tour.

“There isn’t too much we can do regarding physical preparation. The schedule is what it is. We have one warm-up T20 match as well as the normal net sessions and middle practice sessions.

“Bangladesh are playing well and have been involved in a few big series, including the [recent 2-1 ODI series] win against India, so we need to be on top of our game from the outset. We know that,” Domingo said before referring, with an understandably wizened weariness, to an old theme.

“Our players will be coming off a good month of rest. If we play week in and week out, players are jaded and we are criticised for that. But if you have a month or two off, players are rusty and we are criticised for that. You can’t win. We just need to prepare well and train hard for five days and get straight back into it. That’s the bottom line.”

Faf du Plessis was certainly grateful for the break: “The time away from the game has been much needed, especially for the guys that go to the IPL [Indian Premier League] every year as we hardly get a good break at home and have a lot of cricket coming up this season. So mentally it is great that we’ve had time off.”

The Bangladeshi team is not what it once was. An ever-changing line-up of well-connected recent school-leavers and 21-year-olds has evolved into a squad of seasoned, experienced cricketers. Selection is consistent, eccentric or outspoken individuals are no longer immediately discarded, the first-class structure is working and the players are awash with confidence under an excellent coach, Sri Lankan Chandika Hathurusingha.

This series will be neither one-sided nor easy.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Neil Manthorp
Neil Manthorp works from Cape Town. Talk and write about cricket,golf and most sports. Executive Coach. Cook for the family when at home. Neil Manthorp has over 27405 followers on Twitter.

Related stories

It’s just not cricket

Near Makhanda in the Eastern Cape in the village of Salem is a cricket pitch that is said to be the oldest in the country. Watered by blood and trauma, rolled with frontier nostalgia and contemporary paranoia, how does it play?

Surviving Covid-19 — and Modi

A religious and nationalist agenda has replaced the promise of development and left India ill-equipped to manage the pandemic

The last hours of Solomon Mujuru

Zimbabwean General Solomon Mujuru died in suspicious circumstances in August 2011. This is an edited extract from his recently published biography by Blessing-Miles Tendi

We must fight the scourge of child domestic labour

More than 17-million children around the world are involved in domestic labour. The recent death of 17-year-old Salome Zacharia in Tanzania highlights their plight

Proteas hungry for first ICC trophy

The women’s side won their first game against England, and have not been shy to admit they have what it takes to win the T20 World Cup

Discrediting elections: Why the opposition playbook carries risks

By pushing their usually valid complaints onto the streets and the courts, opposition leaders deny governments the popular goodwill and international credibility they need to govern effectively
Advertising

The PPE scandal that the Treasury hasn’t touched

Many government officials have been talking tough about dealing with rampant corruption in PPE procurement but the majority won't even release names of who has benefited from the R10-billion spend

ANC still at odds over how to tackle leaders facing...

The ANC’s top six has been mandated to work closely with its integrity committee to tackle claims of corruption against senior party members
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday