A man walked past the Shere Bangla National Stadium in Dhaka two months ago, pushing his cargo rickshaw because it was too heavy to cycle. It had 40 sacks of building sand piled on to it, at 20kg apiece. Clearly there was a gradient on the road, but it was invisible to the naked eye.
Every step he took was painful to observe. The man could hardly have weighed more than three of his sacks, which, in total, weighed 800kg. Three bald bicycle tyres bore the burden at bursting point, but their owner took stoicism to new levels. Every centimetre forward was progress, simple as that.
About half a kilometre past the stadium, the invisible gradient changed again. The rickshaw owner stood on each pedal, in turn, with both feet, seemingly making himself heavier than he was, and his load started to move as it was intended to.
Dhaka is one of the flattest cities in the world, but if anything can identify a slope, it’s 800kg of sand on a bicycle. The last sight of him was freewheeling into the distance, admittedly at modest pace, on the same apparently flat road. It’s unknown what he was paid for the haulage, although it was understood to be considerably less than a dollar.
As a metaphor for playing international cricket in the country, it had its merits. Both batsmen and bowlers have to work harder than in most countries at the beginning of a Test match but things do, eventually, start moving towards the end of an innings. Towards the end of a match, they are positively free-flowing and results can be bountiful. Especially if you are a spinner – of which, the hosts have more and better samples.
Effort and technique rewarded
The same does not apply in quite the same way, however, to the limited-overs formats. The invisible gradients are still there, but effort and technique are rewarded for the batsmen and bowlers prepared to work with the lack of pace, seam or spin rather than labour against it.
Strong batsmen prepared to force the pace on sluggish tracks can be rewarded, whereas the “accumulators” looking for singles in T20 cricket sink quicker than struggling explorers in quicksand. Power-hitters can thrive in Bangladesh but only if they adapt their game from quick South African pitches to the low, skiddy ones they will be playing on for the next month.
“Nobody goes there just expecting to win anymore,” concurred Proteas T20 captain Faf du Plessis this week. “We know it’s going to be a challenge from the beginning but it is one we are looking forward to.
“Everyone will have to adapt their games immediately and make a plan; that’s what international cricket is about these days. Nobody has two or three weeks to acclimatise anymore,” he said. The recent series between England and New Zealand shone a light on a future that South Africa, so far, have not shared. Both teams scored and chased more than 350 in a derring-do exhibition of entertainment.
Despite scoring more 400+ totals in one-day international cricket than any other team, the Proteas insist on “building” a score in T20. They may justify their caution in the opening power-play overs by the middle order’s strength, but they have failed to win anything of consequence; the tactic tells more of a fear of failure than cunning strategy.
It is time to attack from the outset. It does not mean throwing caution to the wind or being reckless, but the sight of South Africa’s top order leaving deliveries and nudging gentle singles into the covers belongs in a bygone era.
Put it in reverse
“The Proteas still have the best pace attack in the world and if they can get the ball to reverse swing, they’ll be too strong for the Bangladesh top order,” says former star Springbok all-rounder Jacques Kallis.
“The only downside I can see is a bit of rustiness after not playing a Test for six months but I’m pretty sure they’ll find their feet quickly.”