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South Africa vs Bangladesh – 1st Test
- Match: RSA vs Ban, 1st Test, Bangladesh tour of South Africa, 2017
- Date: Thursday, September 28, 2017 – Monday, October 02, 2017
- Time: 08:00 AM GMT
- Venue: Senwes Park, Potchefstroom
- Umpires: Chris Gaffaney , Bruce Oxenford
- Third Umpire: Kumar Dharmasena
- Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle
Potchefstroom in September is not the sort of Test match that sides build towards. The sleepy student town is about as low key a venue for a South African Test as you get, and the country’s cricket fans are barely emerging from hibernation at this time of year. News of a Test against Bangladesh in ‘Potch’ in September would normally drive them back into their lairs.
This time is a little different, with both teams seeking some new beginnings. While South Africa are hoping to consign a tough tour of England to the back of their minds and embrace a sense of renewal under new coach Ottis Gibson, Bangladesh have a rare opportunity to convert their fast-improving home form into away performances.
By the end of the fourth Test at Old Trafford last month, South Africa were looking ragged. Injuries and illness had not allowed them to settle into a rhythm in the final two Tests, with the batsmen enduring a torrid series in which only one batsman scored a hundred. The batting order was shuffled constantly, a well-balanced side remained elusive and the bowlers often flattered to deceive. Russell Domingo was a dead coach walking, his plight worsening when the identity of his successor was leaked midway through the match.
The past seven weeks have afforded some distance and clarity. The Manchester drizzle has given way to bright Potch sunshine and the world does not feel quite so bad after all. Some problems still remain, but there is time to work on them before the tougher assignments of India and Australia next year. South Africans love nothing more than a young prodigy, and Aiden Markram’s selection to open alongside Dean Elgar has permitted a sense that the future could be bright.
The sudden dearth of fit fast bowlers aside, the main concern is the ever-present issue of balancing the team. For the vast majority of Tests since Jacques Kallis’ retirement nearly four years ago, South Africa opted to play seven batsmen and four frontline bowlers. In England they changed things up, playing Vernon Philander and Chris Morris in the same team, and it worked when both were fully fit in Nottingham.
Now neither are available, and the dilemma has returned. Will they go back to seven batsmen, or will the uncapped Andile Phehlukwayo be given an opportunity to be the allrounder the team needs? Ahead of the first Test, captain Faf du Plessis suggested that South Africa would like to trial both options during the series if conditions allow.
Du Plessis confirmed that he had asked for a pitch with “pace and bounce” at Senwes Park, and the surface remained under cover on Wednesday (September 27) as the groundsman looked to preserve its moisture in a dry climate. It may generally be one of the flatter pitches in the country, but it will still offer Bangladesh the test that they must be relishing.
While previous Bangladesh sides may have been cowed by the prospect of trips to South Africa – they have lost all four Tests here by an innings – the current crop have progressed to the point where this trip can be embraced. Given their rising stature, such chances to prove themselves further have been all too rare for Bangladesh. They have not played Tests in South Africa, Australia or England since 2010.
In January, they played Tests in New Zealand for the first time in seven years and showed how far they have come, scoring 595 for eight declared after being stuck in to bat in the first Test. A second-innings collapse allowed New Zealand to win the match, and confirm that Bangladesh still have work to do. How they go against a Proteas seam attack that has lacked its usual bite, and which will be missing Dale Steyn and Philander, will be one of the sub-plots of the series.