Six questions for Australia’s batsmen in Bangladesh

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By , Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    Major batting collapses in both innings of the first Test saw Australia lose by 20 runs to Bangladesh. They also raised the following questions about each member of Australia’s top six.

    Steve Smith – can he regain his fleet-footed confidence?
    Swift and assured footwork is the key reason Smith has enjoyed such rare success in Asia for a visiting batsman. Even India’s superstar spin duo Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja often had no answer to Smith’s remarkable ability to skip down the track and get to the pitch of the ball.

    In doing so he gets inside a spinner’s head. A slow bowler loves nothing more than to bowl at a stationary target – a batsman who remains rooted to the crease, allowing the spinner to find their length and settle into a rhythm.

    They loathe a batsman who, via quick feet, turns a perfect length delivery into a half volley to drive through or over the infield.

    After being bowled while coming down the track in the first innings at Dhaka, Smith banished this tactic. In the second innings, he played almost exclusively from the crease. Although he made 37 from 99 balls, he looked far more vulnerable than he did at any time in India, and the Bangladesh bowlers were dictating terms to him.

    Smith might have been too hard on himself after the first innings failure. He is a far better batsman when he’s coming down the track at the spinners. It will be fascinating to see if he returns to his usual self in the second Test.

    Australian captain Steve Smith leaves the field

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Peter Handscomb – can he finally cash in on his frequent good starts in Asia?
    Handscomb’s raw numbers suggest he has struggled in his five Tests in Asia, making 246 runs at 27 with only a single half-century from ten innings. If you dig deeper you will find another stat which better sums up how he has fared in Asia – eight of his ten scores have been between 15 and 33.

    On turning tracks against high-quality spinners, making your way to 15 is far from elementary.

    By the time you reach that score, batting should have got significantly easier, not just because your “eye is in”, something which is relevant regardless of conditions. But also because you have become better in sync with the vagaries of the parched surface.

    Tail enders Ashton Agar and Pat Cummins showed this in the first innings at Dhaka when they batted together for 25 overs. In their first 30 minutes at the crease, both batsmen looked shaky, but from then on they made batting quite easy.

    In Asia, Handscomb has routinely not just survived this first 30 minutes but cruised through it with confidence. Then, with the toughest of work completed, he’s found ways to get out.

    With his nimble footwork and powerful, effective sweep shots, Handscomb has the game to make a lot of runs in Asia. He just needs to begin converting his good starts.

    Glenn Maxwell – can he channel his attacking instincts?
    Like Handscomb, Maxwell appears to have the tools to flourish in Asia. Across his six Test innings in India and Bangladesh this year he mostly has looked at ease, even when the batsmen around him have been scratchy.

    At Dhaka he looked in fine touch in the first innings, driving confidently off the front and back foot.

    Then, just as he appeared to be on top of the home attack, he telegraphed his intent to come down the pitch and was stumped. In the second innings, Maxwell got off the mark with a gorgeous sweep which darted to the deep square boundary.

    Then, on 11 from 18 balls, Maxwell tried to manufacture a boundary from a good ball. He went back in his crease to try to cut a Taijul Islam delivery which was wide enough to play this shot, but clearly too full. The ball skimmed past his outside edge and Maxwell threw his head back and loudly admonished himself.

    I took this furious reaction as a positive sign – that Maxwell was acutely aware of the need to rein in his cavalier instincts. The Victorian went to lunch on 14 from 24 balls, with Australia seven wickets down and just 66 runs shy of victory.

    Then, first ball after the break, Maxwell gifted his wicket as he was bowled trying to cut a delivery off the line of the stumps. Many Roarers will now be thinking to themselves, “That’s just how Maxwell plays Ronan, he’ll never be a decent Test cricketer.”

    That may be true. But that well-paced hundred he scored in India showed he does have the capacity to play in a mature manner with great success. It must be said, however, that only twice in his 12-innings Test career has he displayed such composure.

    Matt Renshaw – Will Warner’s success at Dhaka ease the burden on the 21-year-old opener?
    Despite entering the Test series in India as a 20-year-old with just four Tests to his name, Renshaw quickly became heavily relied upon by Australia due to the failure of top order teammates David Warner and Shaun Marsh.

    At 30 years old, with 18 Test tons in the bank, Warner was meant to be the senior and dominant member of Australia’s opening partnership in India. Instead, he struggled badly and a huge weight of responsibility was shifted on to Renshaw after he started the series brilliantly with knocks of 68, 31 and 60.

    Australian batsman Matt Renshaw

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Renshaw faded over his final five innings of the series, making 73 runs at 15, and by the end of the tour he had lost the relaxed, smiley persona which had earlier set him apart at the crease.

    It was hard not to think he had been frazzled by the sudden surge in responsibility, going from operating in the slipstream of Smith, Warner and Usman Khawaja during his debut summer to suddenly being a leader of the batting line-up in India.

    Renshaw again had to try to make up for the shortcomings of his vastly more experienced colleagues in the first Test at Dhaka.

    Warner, Smith and Khawaja all failed, leaving Australia 4-33 and Renshaw tasked with a rescue mission. If the veterans around him can lift some of the load off of Renshaw in the second Test, we may see the best of the gifted youngster.

    David Warner – was his ton at Dhaka a one-off or can he become a quality player in Asia?
    David Warner has a poor Test record in Asia. Yet he has never appeared bamboozled by spin on the subcontinent the way several of his colleagues have in recent years.

    Some of his teammates have looked like they would never score a ton in Asia even if they had 100 attempts.

    By comparison, Warner often skips away to a bright start, seems well set to play a valuable knock and then makes a fatal mistake. This is what has infuriated Australian fans.

    These are Warner’s innings in Asia over the past two years – 112, 8, 6, 54, 14, 19, 17, 33, 10, 38, 68, 11, 41, 42. Lots of starts, yet only one innings of great value.

    Usman Khawaja – Is this his final Test in Asia?
    I have written more than enough about Khawaja’s laboured efforts in Asia, so I will keep this brief. Khawaja’s supporters argue that he should play in the second Test in Bangladesh to help him become a better batsman in Asia for future tours.

    But, after this Test, Australia will barely play in Asia again over the next three years. In that period, Australia have just three such Tests – against Pakistan in the UAE in 18 months from now. By the following time Australia play in Asia, against Sri Lanka in 2020, Khawaja will be pushing 34 years old and quite possibly already retired.

    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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