From AB de Villiers’ absence to the opening berth, ANTOINETTE MULLER runs the rule over five talking points ahead of the first of two Tests between Bangladesh and South Africa, starting in Chittagong on Tuesday.
After getting a bloodied nose in the one-day series, South Africa shifts gears towards the longest format of the game for a two-match series against Bangladesh starting on Tuesday. While Bangladesh has been a team on the up for the last few months, they still lag behind in the Test arena.
In the Test series against Pakistan a few weeks ago, Bangladesh showed that they still have a way to go before they can compete in the long form game, so South Africa will be quite confident heading into the series, despite their batting woes.
They have Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander back to torment batsmen, although it’s likely going to be the spinners who reap the most rewards. South Africa’s main batsmen, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy and Quinton de Kock, need to snap out of their shoddy form pretty quickly though.
Here are five talking points ahead of the first Test in Chittagong, starting bright and early at 05:30am South African time on Tuesday morning.
Who is going to open the batting?
You would think that Stiaan van Zyl is the prime candidate for opening the batting alongside Dean Elgar, but Reeza Hendricks is in with a shot, too. Van Zyl was moved up the batting order for his franchise when Alviro Petersen announced his retirement and opened in a few of the South African ‘A’ games against the England Lions, too. All signs point to Van Zyl being the player to get the opening berth, especially since he is already in the system and South Africa have a penchant for playing Tetris with its batsmen and moulding them into the role they want them to fit into. However, don’t be surprised if Hendricks makes is bow as opener with Van Zyl slotting in lower down the order. The other and rather maverick option is, of course, to allow the natural opener in the team, Quinton de Kock, to open. But with his dodgy form and the fact that he might need to keep for long periods, it’s an unlikely option.
Should Dale Steyn have stayed at home?
Dale Steyn caused a right ruckus a few months ago when he said he would rather not “waste” his deliveries in Bangladesh. With the batsmen falling flat in two matches against Bangladesh, it turns out it might not have been that much of a waste, but rather an improbable defence. Steyn is, without a doubt, South Africa’s best bowler. He gets results all around the world, but he is also heading towards the end of his career. With a four-match Test series against India and England later in the year, perhaps leaving Steyn at home for the Tests, too, would not have been the worst idea.
Might South Africa be bold enough to play two spinners?
For reason only the selectors will know, Aaron Phangiso, who struggled to get a first class game for his franchise last season, was included in the Test squad. Simon Harmer is there, too, and he is most likely to fill the frontline spinner role. With the tracks in Bangladesh offering plenty of spin, might South Africa be bold enough to go with two spinners? JP Duminy fills the ‘all-rounder’ role quite well, but with conditions likely to favour the spinners, South Africa might be tempted to play both Harmer and Phangiso. It would leave them significantly weaker in the batting department, unless they replace one of the quick bowlers with a spinner. Such a bold move would be most unusual for South Africa’s usually conservative selection policy, so don’t hold your breath.
Would a draw be considered as bad as a loss?
Bangladesh have never beaten South Africa in a Test. In fact, they have never even drawn against them in a Test, but as the recent ODI series showed, ‘nevers’ are there to be turned into first times. South Africa will remain at the top of the Test rankings even if they lost the series 2-0 to Bangladesh (regardless of what happens in the Ashes). Still, South Africa are expected to win the series easily, provided the weather plays along. A draw that’s not down to the weather will be considered a pretty poor effort, even without De Villiers. They are a team in a slightly ‘transitional’ period, but anything other than a convincing victory against a team ranked more than seven places below them, a draw that is not due to the weather will be a pretty dismal result.
How much will AB de Villiers be missed?
AB de Villiers is off on daddy duty and will miss both Tests. His impact (or rather lack thereof) was quite evident in the ODIs, but how much will South Africa miss his influence in the Tests? Since making his debut, De Villiers has not missed a Test for South Africa, but there is a first time for everything and with a number of fresh faces waiting in the wings, somebody can make a real name for themselves in De Villiers absence. DM
Photo: South African batsman Hashim Amla salutes the crowd as he scores a century in South Africa’s second innings on the fourth day of the second Test match between South Africa and Australia at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, South Africa, 20 November 2011. EPA/JON HRUSA.
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