Bangladesh and Australia are set to break an 11-year drought when they lock horns in the first Test in Dhaka on Sunday (August 27). The two teams last played a Test in Bangladesh in 2006, and despite various attempts at scheduling a series between the two sides since, it has taken a little over a decade for a tour to materialise.
Both Tests — the second of which will be played in Chittagong from September 4 — are expected to be closely fought encounters, given Australia’s prowess and Bangladesh’s tremendous record at home in recent times.
Acclimatisation will be one of Australia’s biggest challenges. Their only warm-up game in Fatullah was cancelled due to water-logging at the venue following major rain. They played an intra-squad game in Darwin, in Australia’s tropical northern region, before landing in Bangladesh, but Glenn Maxwell suffered a minor heatstroke on the first day of practice in hot and humid Dhaka.
Bangladesh (from): Mushfiqur Rahim (capt, wk), Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Mominul Haque, Imrul Kayes, Liton Das, Shakib Al Hasan, Nasir Hossain, Sabbir Rahman, Mehedi Hasan, Shafiul Islam, Taijul Islam, Mustafizur Rahman, Taskin Ahmed.
Australia (final): Steven Smith (capt), David Warner, Matt Renshaw, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Wade (wk), Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.
Furthermore, the forecast for the next five days doesn’t look too encouraging with heavy rains expected throughout the week.
That hasn’t dampened the build up to the series with Shakib Al Hasan firing the first salvo, saying the hosts were expecting nothing less than a clean sweep over the Australians. “I don’t see why it can’t be possible. Our expectation: winning both Tests,” Shakib told reporters. “We need to do well in all aspects if we want to win the Tests.”
Steven Smith, the Australia captain, said he was surprised by the claim, pointing out that Bangladesh had only won a handful of matches in the longest format over the years. “I think Bangladesh have only won nine of their 100 games so it’s very confident,” he quipped. “Look, they are obviously confident about their skillset at the moment. They are at home and most teams play well at home, and Bangladesh have been playing well at home so it’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
Australia named Ashton Agar, the left-arm-spinning allrounder, and Usman Khawaja, the top-order batsman, in their playing XI for the first Test. Khawaja, who hasn’t played competitive cricket since January, is expected to slot in at No. 3 while Agar will partner Nathan Lyon in a two-pronged spin attack.
Khawaja averages less than 20 in the subcontinent, but Smith feels he has raised his game and warrants another opportunity. “I think he (Khawaja) is a player who has worked very hard on playing against spin,” said Smith. “I know he didn’t get an opportunity in India, but he spent a lot of time in the nets working on lots of things and finding different ways to play and I’m sure that’ll hold him in good stead for this series as well. He’s worked hard in the nets the last week and hopefully we can see him have a big impact in this series.”
Agar, who had a memorable debut against England in the 2013 Ashes where he scored 98 batting at No. 11 in Nottingham, hasn’t represented his country in the longest format since the second Test (at Lord’s) of the same series. “Ashton Agar (is) back into the fold after four years out,” revealed Smith. “I think he’s come a long way over the last year particularly. He’s been bowling very well in the nets. His lengths have been exceptional so if he can get those right in the game I’m sure he’ll have a big impact for us.”
Australia have a strong batting line-up that includes Smith, David Warner, Matt Renshaw, Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Maxwell and Matthew Wade. Though they stunned India on a crumbling track in Pune in the first match of the four-Test series earlier this year before going down 2-1, their main challenge will be to execute plans for longer periods of time and secure a rare series win in the subcontinent.
The hosts, led by Mushfiqur Rahim, initially dropped Mominul Haque and Mahmudullah from their 14-man squad, bringing back Nasir Hossain, the allrounder, and Shafiul Islam, the medium pacer, but later brought Mominul back after widespread outrage in their country, especially on social media. They have talent and experience in their batting line-up, with Tamim Iqbal singled out by the visitors as someone who might be a threat.
The last time Australia came to Bangladesh, they won both Tests and all three One-Day Internationals under Ricky Ponting’s captaincy. The current Bangladesh side can be expected to put up a much better fight.