It’s all about the quicks

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

LIKE many other spinners in SA’s annals, Aaron Phangiso is all about the demure virtues of line and length rather than ripping turn.

So it was rich of him to wish out loud that the pitch for Sunday’s first T20 between Bangladesh and SA in Dhaka puts a sparkle in tweakers’ eyes.

“When you come to Bangladesh you expect the wicket to turn a little bit and we didn’t get anything,” Phangiso said after SA’s win in a warm-up match against a Board XI in Fatullah on Friday. “Let’s hope the groundsmen do something different.”

For one thing, see the first paragraph above. For another, despite the prevailing conditions – heat heavy with  humidity and surfaces more akin to Roland Garros than what South Africans would recognise as a cricket pitch – this series is about fast bowlers.

All six frontline batsman in SA’s squad were at the World Cup in Australasia. But the pace battery has been recharged: Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander have been replaced by Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris and Beuran Hendricks.

Will they get by without the help of their South African friends, pace and bounce? Can Rabada put his bowling where his headlines are? Might Morris rediscover the form that earned him 47 T20 wickets in SA in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons? Is the blood in Hendricks’ veins still as chilled as it was before he suffered a stress fracture of the back?

The questions are even more pressing on the other side of the fence. If the dying words of general George Armstrong Custer at Little Big Horn really were, “Where the hell did all the Indians come from,” Bangladesh’s recent opponents know just how he felt.

Where the hell Bangladesh have found a pace attack to take seriously is at least as difficult to answer. Not that it should be.

Left-arm paceman Mustafizur Rahman took 13 wickets in three one-day internationals against India last month, and he is only the flavour of the moment.

Rahman’s haul of 5/50 in the first match was the fifth instance of a Bangladeshi claiming four or more wickets on ODI debut in the past seven years.

Including Rahman, three of those bowlers – medium pacer Rubel Hossain and off-spinner Sohag Gazi are the others – are in Bangladesh’s squad for the two T20s against SA.

South Africans who worry that the intense focus on Rabada could be unhealthy considering he is only 20 should know that Rahman is still 19, and that he has to make his way in a country where thousands gather to watch training sessions. Indeed, three children were injured in Fatullah on Friday trying to squeeze into a full ground – to see a warm-up game.

“When you play against subcontinent teams you expect a lot of spinners turning up,” Faf du Plessis said this week. “The surprising thing from these series (against Pakistan and India, both won by Bangladesh) was that they had so many seamers coming up.

“It’s good for world cricket; they are no longer a minnows team. It makes teams like us come here and really respect their capabilities as a team.”

Polite? Yes. The truth? Perhaps not. If SA lose on Sunday they will have played below themselves. Whether or not the pitch is to Phangiso’s liking, they remain the better team.

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