Bangladesh's chance to do more than settle for winning at home

Bangladesh's cricketers celebrate a famous victory over England Getty Images

Twice in the last four weeks, members of BCB's power base said that winning at home was more important for the Bangladesh team.

First it was chief selector Minhajul Abedin who, in offering reasons for Mominul Haque's axing in the first Test against Australia, said that the batsman will be picked for South Africa - there's more pressure on players while playing at home, he said.

At the end of the second Test, BCB chief Nazmul Hassan said something on the same lines: they don't mind taking risks with players abroad but are unlikely to go down that route at home where they are more likely to win.

Perhaps, in a strange way, Abedin and Hassan were trying to minimise expectations on Bangladesh ahead of a tough tour. While Bangladesh have started to win more regularly at home since 2013 - and regularly have to play under the pressure of being expected to win at home these days - their away record continues to be substandard. They have lost 85% of all Tests abroad and in South Africa, all four losses have been innings-defeats.

These numbers perhaps shed light on those comments of the top-brass and, given the influence Hassan has on the team's selection policy and their overall strategy, also perhaps point towards a new direction from BCB's hierarchy. They also add context to the timing of Shakib Al Hasan's request for a break. To be fair, he had wanted to skip Tests for six months which would have included the Sri Lanka Tests at home too, but the BCB decided that he could just miss the South Africa Tests.

Does all this mean that the Bangladesh cricketers will lack motivation in South Africa, then?

Far from it.

From the start of their mid-summer training camp, Bangladesh's senior players have said repeatedly that doing well in South Africa is a major priority. Batsmen like Mushfiqur Rahim and Tamim Iqbal take a lot of pride in scoring runs away from home and this thinking also feeds into the mindset of younger batsmen like Sabbir Rahman, Soumya Sarkar and Mominul Haque.

Bangladesh's pace attack often wait for years to bowl in helpful conditions and the current lot will certainly relish bowling on pitches that will be predictably harder than those at home.

As for coach Chandika Hathurusingha, while talking about the Australia series last month, he had curiously made reference to the South Africa tour a few times; some observed that perhaps the upcoming tour was taking up more of his time than the series at hand at the time.

Hathurusingha is known for his meticulous planning and has taken the team to training camps abroad ahead of tours to Australia, New Zealand and England. It wasn't possible this time because Bangladesh were scheduled to finish the Australia series only on September 8 but, still, they arrived in South Africa 11 days before the first Test, and have already completed a three-day practice match that has posed new questions and provided some assurances.

Bangladesh can forget about their horrid previous record in South Africa and what the board is saying too; instead, the focus should be on how they have done outside Asia in the last two years. Even in New Zealand this year, when they lost every game, they showed that they can push back against a strong pace attack in scoring close to 600 in the first innings of the Test series. In the Champions Trophy in England and Wales, some of their batsmen tackled England and New Zealand adeptly and showed that they can look past previously held demons on pacy pitches.

At the individual level, too, there are plenty of players who have a lot to prove and play for. Apart from Tamim and Mushfiqur, the rest of the batting line-up isn't settled. Soumya Sarkar and Imrul Kayes have their own battle after doing poorly against Australia. Mahmudullah has a chance to prove his Test worth after being axed during the Australia series.

Among the younger lot, Mominul has to score runs to disprove doubters in the team management while Sabbir Rahman also doesn't have a fixed spot in the batting line-up. Liton Das, Mushfiqur's understudy, would feel that even if not as a wicketkeeper, he should make an impact as a batsman.

Without Shakib, a lot of pressure will also be on spinners Mehidy Hasan and Taijul Islam to provide breakthroughs, while the pace attack must bowl well together because - unlike any home series - here they will be expected to spearhead the attack.

That said, the players would do well to remember that South Africa is a country where subcontinent teams have struggled regularly. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have totalled just five wins in South Africa and there hasn't been one such victory since 2011. So, while the determination levels will be high, they should not feel overly undone by supposedly unfavourable results. Winning might not be the best goal in this case, instead, they should fiercely focus on bettering their performance from the last two occasions; if they were to lose as badly as they did then, it would surely be seen as a backward step. Winning at home is great, yes, but there is no doubt that there is plenty to strive for and look forward to on this tour as well.