The end-of-tour feeling is markedly different between the South African tour and Bangladesh's last full tour earlier this year in March-April, when the Tigers came away with a share of each of the three series they contested in Sri Lanka. That journey ended with a win in the second T20I, while this one has ended with a royal hammering in the tour-ending match on Sunday, when Bangladesh suffered their second-heaviest defeat in T20Is. After Sri Lanka it seemed that Bangladesh had taken a step forward; after South Africa it seemed as if they took two steps back.
T20I captain Shakib Al Hasan is known for not betraying his true emotions, and although he managed a smile here and there, even he could not find positives from their month-long stay. “It is difficult to identify positives in such situations,” he said after the second T20I in Potchefstroom. “There were some here and there, but none of us were consistent. Mushfiqur [Rahim] bhai batted well in the ODIs, Rubel [Hossain] bowled well in every match except today. But it's important to get a lot of contributions like those if a team wants to win.”
WORST TOUR SINCE 2008
The results on tour make for sorry reading: loss by 333 runs in the first Test in Potchefstroom; by an innings and 254 runs in the second Test in Bloemfontein; by 10 wickets, 104 runs and 200 runs in the ODIs; and 20-run and 83-run defeats in the two T20Is. One would have to go back to their last visit of South Africa in 2008 to find a tour of such one-sided results. Even then, the closest result was closer than the closest one on this tour, as Bangladesh lost the only T20I in 2008 by 12 runs.
They may have lost all matches in New Zealand earlier this year, but as Shakib himself admitted, on that tour there were a number of matches that they looked like winning, and they were on course to draw the first Test in Wellington until a fifth-day implosion. Here, in Shakib's words, Bangladesh 'did not compete in any matches'.
Perhaps the most concerning factor here was the mental weakness displayed by the Tigers. Shakib said on Sunday that they are not yet a team that are mentally strong enough to chase down a total in excess of 220 in T20Is – a damning assessment but also an honest one in light of this tour.
“We have a break from international cricket now, so the effort will be to work hard and improve our mental fitness, which I think is more important to attain than physical fitness. The physical is important too of course, but if we can overcome the mental block then we can move forward.”
While it is true that the absences through injury of Tamim Iqbal for all but two of the matches on tour and that of Mustafizur Rahman for the five limited-overs games were significant setbacks, the utter lack of a will to fight in their absence was a jarring reminder of where they stand as a team.
South Africa played much of the series without their first-choice bowling line-up. Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn and Chris Morris did not take part in the series, Morne Morkel was out injured from the second Test onwards and Kagiso Rabada sat out the T20I series. Yet a most inexperienced bowling lineup blew the Tigers away in the last match and snuffed out the only show of fight from Bangladesh in the first T20I.
South Africa have much greater depth, but instead of taking that for granted– as the cricketers seem to have done over the past month -- now may be a good time to ask why Bangladesh cannot come close to matching that.
“People will have personal opinions, but I won't say that we have to start thinking about turning things upside down after just one series,” was how Shakib responded to a question about ODI skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza characterising the 3-0 loss as 'alarming'. “It is a little normal that results like this will happen on overseas tours. Maybe it was expected that we would lose, but we did not expect to play the cricket we did to lose the way we did. We all know what our ability is, and none of us could perform up to that. So in that regard I am sure that everyone -- starting with the BCB, the coaching staff and us players -- will work hard to overcome it, which is important if we want to move forward.”
WILL THE RIGHT QUESTIONS BE ASKED?
It is said that there is more to learn from defeats than wins, and in that respect this has been a valuable tour for Bangladesh. A lot of concerns have been thrown up in South Africa, and it is pertinent that the powers that be ask the right questions, including of themselves. By the end of the Test series a clear conflict seemed to have arisen between captain Mushfiqur Rahim and coach Chandika Hathurusingha and that has to be addressed; not just to censure Mushfiqur for lashing out publicly but also to ask if the coach has too much of a say for players' comfort. Throughout the tour it was the long-suffering captains who faced the questions and Hathurusingha hid behind closed off practice sessions. Is the coach prioritised above the captains by the board?
Hathurusingha and the board will do well to sit together and ask a few questions. Is it right that the Sri Lankan has a say in squad selection even though he does not stay in the country between international assignments to see domestic talent first-hand? Is taking 22-member squads to training camps abroad enough for him to have an idea of the breadth of talent in the country? Given his clout, is this perhaps the answer to the lack of depth in the player stocks?
Shakib seemed to be against sea changes, but the silver lining of this dark tour is that there is now an opportunity to make meaningful, beneficial changes. The next level for Bangladesh cricket is doing well in places like South Africa. Once the home matches start and Bangladesh start doing well again, all these real problems will be swept under the carpet, until another South African disaster occurs.