Australia should play three spinners in Bangladesh

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By , Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    Australia have a host of problems to deal with as they head towards the second Test in Bangladesh at serious risk of a humiliating 2-0 series loss.

    Bangladesh yesterday completed arguably the greatest win in their 17-year Test history, dismissing Australia for 244 to claim a 20-run victory.

    That was only Bangladesh’s 10th win from 101 Tests, and only the third victory they have registered over one of the stronger international teams, with the other seven wins coming against Zimbabwe and the West Indies.

    Significantly, all three of those major wins have come in the past ten months – they hammered England in Dhaka last October, beat Sri Lanka in Colombo this March and then yesterday earned what might be their most significant victory.

    After being considered minnows for so many years, Bangladesh have blossomed into a highly-competitive and skilful Test team. They thoroughly deserved to win this Test and should now be favourites to win the series.

    Yet a week ago it Australia who were the favourites with the bookies after an impressive display in India, where they were in a position to win the four-Test series midway through the final match. But, as I flagged in June, Australia were always going to be vulnerable heading into this series without superstar quick Mitchell Starc, who is neck and neck with Steve Smith as their most important player in Asian conditions.

    In that article, the other player I predicted Australia would miss badly in Bangladesh was left arm spinner Steve O’Keefe, who was left out of the squad for this series seemingly due to off-field indiscretions.

    Now O’Keefe has landed in Bangladesh after being called in as the replacement for injured paceman Josh Hazlewood, who strained his side at Dhaka. I would send the veteran tweaker straight into the XI in place of Hazlewood for the second Test, giving Australia three frontline spinners.

    Stephen O'Keefe celebrates Australia

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    Australia also have the choice of introducing reserve quick Jackson Bird, who has a fine Test record with 34 wickets at an average of 27 from eight matches. But Bird has never played a Test in Asia and is similar in style, yet not quite as good, as Hazlewood who had no impact in the first Test and has struggled for penetration in Asia, taking just 16 wickets from eight matches.

    At Dhaka, Bangladesh barely used their two pace bowlers, who combined to send down a minuscule 15 overs for the Test. Australian Pat Cummins was the only fast bowler who posed a threat the whole match and that seemed to be due to his intimidating pace as he pushed the speed gun up to 149kmh.

    Bowling in the gentle 130 – 135kmh range, it is hard to see how Bird would be any more effective than Hazlewood. The other option would be to replace Hazlewood with 23-year-old leg spinner Mitchell Swepson and leave out either O’Keefe or fellow left armer Ashton Agar.

    Bowling with an enticing loop and heavy side spin, Swepson is the most attacking spinner in the Australian squad. He certainly would add some nice variety to their attack.

    The major drawbacks with Swepson are his lack of experience, having played just 14 first-class games, and his tendency to be very expensive, as evidenced by his lofty career economy rate of 4.04 runs per over.

    This latter weakness was underlined in Australia’s sole trial match prior to this series. On a turning deck in Darwin on which both Lyon and Agar performed well, Swepson was absolutely mauled by his Australian opponents, finishing with match figures of 0-118 while conceding more than five runs per over.

    With the series on the line in the second Test, O’Keefe’s selection is a no brainer. The experienced New South Welshman snared 19 wickets at an average of 23 in the Tests in India and is similar in style to Bangladesh left armer Shakib Al Hasan, who ran amok at Dhaka with a 10-wicket match haul.

    While that would leave Australia with two left arm finger spinners, O’Keefe and Agar are not overly similar bowlers. O’Keefe is six inches shorter than Agar and also bowls with a lower, more round-arm action, meaning he has a significantly different trajectory. Where Agar often gets the ball to leap off the surface, O’Keefe is a skiddy operator.

    They also bowl at different speeds. Agar’s height helps him to dart the ball through without bowling too flat, and he was mostly in the 90 – 98kmh range at Dhaka.

    O’Keefe, meanwhile, tends to operate in the 80 – 88kmh bracket. Australia would be stronger for the presence of O’Keefe.

    They would also be boosted if they put Hilton Cartwright in place of Usman Khawaja, who made just two runs at Dhaka, and now averages 14 from his five Tests in Asia.

    Hilton Cartwright of Australia bowls

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    A composed and well-rounded batsman, Cartwright would also offer Australia a handy second seam option should they decide to play three frontline spinners. Khawaja was not alone in having a poor match at Dhaka. Wicketkeeper Matthew Wade badly let down his team with a shoddy keeping performance and two failures with the bat.

    Another calamitous display in the second Test will surely jeopardise Wade’s position for the upcoming Ashes. Number six Glenn Maxwell also failed to press his case for Ashes selection by wasting a pair of good starts. Australia also need a lift from young batsmen Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb.

    That pair have shown great promise over their five Tests in Asia this year but, like Maxwell, need to begin cashing in on their starts. All of a sudden, Australia have a lot to fret over.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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