April 22, 2003

South Africa prepare for Bangladesh Tests

Pat Symcox

South Africa start their first Test tour of Bangladesh with a 45-minute flight from Dhaka to Chittagong tomorrow. None of the South Africans have played in Chittagong before, and little is known about the conditions. By all accounts the hotel rates rather fewer than five stars, and the weather predictions aren't great. It is the rainy season, and completing a Test at all is considered fortunate. The city is a busy port, and is in very mountainous region. Humidity is the biggest enemy of any touring team.

But after their solid performances in the last two outings of the TVS Cup against India last week, the South Africans have good reason to feel upbeat about their progress in this part of the world. The bowlers have clearly worked out that on these sluggish pitches, slower balls are not easy to score from. The batsmen, on the other hand, have realised there is no substitute for time spent at the crease. They also now realise that if someone gets in he has to go on and finish the job, as starting an innings is not an easy task.

The make-up of South Africa's team for the first of the two Tests, which starts on Thursday, will be interesting. The pitch is expected to be tailormade for Bangladesh's spinners, but Eric Simons, the SA coach, has two spinners in his own squad. Simons will have to weigh up whether to play both of them, against a team which would probably prefer that, or to bank on the fact that even on a slow turner the South African pace bowlers will still be a handful. In any case, the two-spinner option would probably mean leaving out one of the batsmen who have been doing well on subcontinental pitches recently.

The left-armer Paul Adams is likely to be the first-choice spinner and, since Jacques Rudolph and Graeme Smith can fill in with a few overs themselves, Robin Peterson might well miss out.

In the pace department Charl Willoughby was picked specifically for his ability to swing the ball in the air when pitches aren't conducive to lateral movement. However, the fact that he is a genuine No. 11 won't help his cause. Andrew Hall and Alan Dawson have stepped up when needed, and their batting ability will make both hard to overlook.

The series may be in Bangladesh, but South Africa are still expected to come out on top. Bangladesh, after all, have lost 16 of the 17 Tests they have played so far - and their only draw came when rain washed out the last two days of a match against Zimbabwe. It should add up to a gentle baptism for Smith as a Test captain.