Bangladesh bank on home advantage
With the controversial spat between South African coach Mickey Arthur and Cricket South Africa chairman Norman Arendse over team selection resolved, the action finally shifts to the field as South Africa take on Bangladesh in the first Test at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium starting on Friday.
Previous contests between the two sides have been rather lopsided in favour of the South Africans and going by current form, another series whitewash looms. After a successful away series against Pakistan, South Africa steamrollered New Zealand and overcame an early jitter against West Indies to record a 2-1 series win in the Tests and a 5-0 clean sweep of the one-dayers to round off a comprehensive home season.
Bangladesh, by contrast, suffered a predictable 2-0 defeat on their tour of New Zealand, where their frailties in the batting department were exposed yet again. Both Tests ended within three days as the batsmen wilted in unfamiliar conditions. A return to home conditions would be their best possible chance of competing better, especially now, after South Africa's scratchy bowling performance in the drawn three-day game against a Bangladesh Cricket Board XI in Fatullah. The Test attack leaked 412 runs in just over 100 overs - conceding a lead in the process - but Arthur brushed aside the concerns and was confident that things would fall into place.
"We have spoken about what's expected from each player," Arthur said. "The stakes are high at this level and I expect everyone to raise the level of their performance."
Graeme Smith, the South African captain, hoped for a sporting pitch in Mirpur, though the indications are that his bowlers are in for a bigger workout. Despite the slow surface, the South Africans are unlikely to field two spinners, with offspinner Johan Botha the first choice ahead of Robin Peterson, the left-arm spinner. Andre Nel, down with a hamstring strain, remains a doubtful starter.
The mood was fairly upbeat in the Bangladesh camp and coach Jamie Siddons reflected on the positives from the tour game. However, Siddons, now in his first home series as coach, was quick to caution his players to expect a backlash.
"We want to make a difference," said Siddons. "The lads are happy and confident of making a fresh start. We need to show a little more courage at this level. The Board XI, who held the South Africans to a draw, gave us some indication as to what we can expect in the first Test.
"I thought we learned a few things and we are going to work on them. I was glad that some of our batsmen made runs. They [South Africa] may have looked flat in the three-day game, but it could be different in the Test. If we can play with some guts, conviction and confidence I believe we will be able to hold our heads high."
One of the positives for Bangladesh in New Zealand was the performance of their young openers, Junaid Siddique and Tamim Iqbal, and the return of Tamim from a thumb injury would come as a boost. Tamim, however, missed out on the tour game and if he's on the reserves again, Shahriar Nafees could be reinstated as an opener.
Heavy rain on Tuesday and overcast conditions the next day forced the players to train indoors. Peterson and Neil McKenzie, who arrived early morning on Wednesday, practiced at the indoor nets.
Bangladesh (from) Mohammad Ashraful (capt), Mashrafe Mortaza, Abdur Razzak, Aftab Ahmed, Habibul Bashar, Junaid Siddique, Mohammad Rafique, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Shahadat Hossain, Shahriar Nafees, Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal.
South Africa (from) Graeme Smith (capt), Ashwell Prince, Hashim Amla, Johan Botha, Mark Boucher (wk), AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Neil McKenzie, Robin Peterson, Jacques Kallis, Morne Morkel, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn.