The first Test match between Bangladesh and host South Africa got underway in the beautiful city of Potchefstroom in the north-west province.
The city, situated around 120kms from Johannesburg, is often preferred by the international athletes for training due to its beautiful weather and suitable condition.
Potchefstroom is the only place in the world with the perfect balance between altitude and quality training at 1,400m.
One of the main reasons behind its clean weather and fresh air is Potch (shortened name) has no large scale of industrial factories.
Athletes around the world often come to the High Performance Institute of Sport of the North West University for training.
Both Bangladesh and South Africa teams are residing at PUK North West University sports village, just beside the Senwes Park, the Test match venue.
The sports village contains football grounds, tennis courts, cricket fields and rugby grounds.
There are quite a few nets as part of the cricket training facilities where Bangladesh and South Africa teams trained as preparation for the first Test.
It also has indoor net facilities.
Potchefstroom has played host to two world cup winning teams, cricket and football respectively, and has thus become the home away from home for many international athletes and teams.
This is only the second time Potchefstroom is hosting a Test match after the first one was held way back in 2002 when Bangladesh played the home side.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Khaled Mashud Pilot was the captain of that team as Bangladesh lost that Test by an innings and 160 runs.
Senwes Park, the Test venue for the South Africa-Bangladesh match has been the the home of cricket for the Highveld Lions.
Potchefstroom hosted matches during the 2003 World Cup between Australia and the Netherlands, Australia and Namibia, and also between South Africa and Kenya.
Potchefstroom was also co-host for the 2009 Cricket World Cup Qualifiers.
The media house of the venue in the University end consists a souvenir bat with autographs of all the members of Bangladesh team who took part in the 2003 World Cup.
South Africa team choose Potchefstroom on a regular basis as their off-season training camp.
During the 2003 World Cup, Australia team chose Potchefstroom as their home base.
The Aussies also became the world champion in that edition as Ricky Ponting’s charges defeated Sourav Ganguly’s India at Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg.
While covering the Bangladesh practice sessions before the start of the two-Test series, this correspondent met a guy named Aasef Sayed, a taxi driver, who wore a signature RF cap of tennis great Roger Federer.
When queried if he follows tennis, Aasef replied with a big smile and said, “Yes.”
Then he showed a book that was placed in his car.
It was the autobiography (My Story) of another tennis great, Rafael Nadal.
Aasef informed that he got this book as a birthday gift two days ago and that he is already halfway through the book.
Then we had a discussion about the big four in tennis – Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
Later, Aasef also took Bangladesh pace bowling coach Courtney Walsh and his wife to a safari, approximately 50kms away from the town.
Following our meeting the next day, Aasef said his dad will be happy when he hears that his son met the legendary Walsh.
After giving some Bangladesh journalists and a few players pick-and-drop service, Aasef said on the morning of day one of the first Test, “I will support Bangladesh in this Test match guys.”
The Bangladesh correspondents, including this journalist, resided at Bauhenia guest house just two kms away from the Test venue.
House owner Jade and her husband were very helpful from the beginning and gave every possible support when they came to know that we came here to cover the Test match.
This correspondent talked with another interesting person.
His name is Julian Soutter and he is a player of the North West Cricket Club.
Upon seeing him, he was mistakenly thought to be Vernon Philander as he also has a tall figure like the fast bowler, and somewhat looks like him.
Later, this journalist found out that he is fast bowler and bowled in the net sessions when Bangladesh practised.
Julian is one of the coordinators in the media box, situated at one corner of the field. During day one of the Test, Hashim Amla was batting on 40-odd runs.
Mustafizur Rahman was bowling to him.
It was a fuller delivery and Amla just punched off the back-foot with his traditional signature style.
Watching this, Julian said, “Don’t bowl there to Hashim, don’t bowl there. He will strike boundary even at 3am in the morning if you bowl there.”
Listening to such comment, this correspondent asked Julian,”Hey, did you ever bowl to Amla in the nets?”
The answer from Julian was, “Are you crazy? (smiles). I don’t want to lose my confidence as a bowler by bowling to Hashim in the nets”.
Perhaps the answer reflects how much of a world class batsman Amla is.
There were a significant number of Bangladesh supporters on the field during day one.
They cheered Bangladesh waving the red and green flag, despite the Tigers having a bad day on the field as just one wicket had fallen.
So the much anticipated “tough away tour” of Bangladesh started from Potch, a beautiful city with fresh weather and friendly people.
And the tour will also end in Potch as the Tigers will play their final match of the tour – the second T20I - here on October 30.