South Africa look to go No. 1
Against the backdrop of the uncertainty surrounding Andre Nel's international future, the short one-day international series between hosts Bangladesh and South Africa comes to a conclusion in Mirpur. South Africa have already clinched the series, and much of the focus rests on whether they can complete the sweep that will take them past as Australia as the best ODI side in the world.
Reports on Wednesday suggested Nel, upset at being ignored for the upcoming Test series in India, considered quitting South African cricket. Mickey Arthur, South Africa's captain, had to vigorously persuade Nel to play in the second match, where the fast bowler returned figures of 4 for 27. Nel has been South Africa's best bowler of the series, taking seven wickets at 7.28 after he was entrusted the leadership of the attack with Dale Steyn not getting a game.
Whether Nel plays tomorrow is uncertain but South Africa still have options in Steyn, Player-of-the-Series in the 2-0 Test whitewash, and Morne Morkel. South Africa's top order was tested in the second ODI but a match-winning partnership between AB de Villiers and JP Duminy took them home comfortably. For the likes of Duminy, yet to cement his place in the side, and Hashim Amla, only two ODIs old, the final match is another shot to impress in the limited-overs format with a busy international calendar ahead.
Gerald Majola, CSA's chief executive, had one eye on the upcoming Test series in India even as South Africa are poised to sweep the ODI series. "We are confident that [South Africa] will win," he said, "and finish the international season as the best ODI team in world cricket."
For Bangladesh, who have struggled to compete against South Africa, the scenario offers another shot at saving face. Their form, however, suggests South Africa will have few hassles. The previous game, also in Mirpur, could have been a different story altogether had Bangladesh followed captain Mohammad Ashraful's wish after he won the toss and put up a 230-plus score on the board. Bangladesh's batting has been a disappointment in the series - only Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan and newcomer Raqibul Hasan managed fifties - and their policy of rotation has come under criticism.
An under-fire Ashraful, after Bangladesh mustered just 173 in 48.2 overs despite a record 119-run stand for the fifth wicket, blamed his batsmen but his own form has been dismal recently. He has scored just eight runs in two games, on the back of a poor Test series, and Bangladesh have won nothing under his captaincy.
Having debuted a crop of young players, and with several veterans either retired or on the way out, Bangladesh continue to be in a period of change. How well they can adapt, having lost the series, and with this being the last opportunity against Test-match opposition before they host Ireland for a three-match series starting March 18, remains to be seen.