Australia fail to capitalise in Bangladesh

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By , Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    After having Bangladesh in big trouble at 5-117, Australia couldn’t press home their advantage as Pat Cummins melted down in the heat and spinner Steve O’Keefe turned in a very rusty performance.

    When Australian spinner Ashton Agar had superstar Shakib Al Hasan caught behind midway through the second session, the visitors had a chance to dismiss Bangladesh for under 200 on a flat pitch.

    But Australia’s attack failed to maintain pressure and Bangladesh’s middle-to-lower order batted wonderfully well to guide the home side to a good position at 6-253 at stumps.

    For the second consecutive Test, Australia ran through Bangladesh’s top order but could not finish the job. At Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed to 3-10 on day one before a big stand between Shakib and opener Tamim Iqbal led them to an above-par score of 260 on a difficult pitch.

    Yesterday it was wicketkeeper Mushfiqur Rahim (62 not out from 149 balls) and middle order batsman Sabbir Rahman (66 from 113 balls) who rescued Bangladesh. While Sabbir took on the bowlers, Mushfiqur was impressively dogged, focusing on playing with a straight bat and eliminating risk from his game.

    It must be said, however, that Australia’s attack looked increasingly lame, both literally and figuratively, as the day progressed. Australia broke from tradition to play three frontline spinners – the first time in 40 years that they had fielded just one fast bowler in a Test match.

    Nathan Lyon of Australia looks on

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    With pace spearhead Josh Hazlewood out injured, the selectors overlooked reserve quick Jackson Bird and leg spinner Mitchell Swepson in favour of O’Keefe.

    O’Keefe was rushed to Bangladesh when Hazlewood went down, after initially being left out of Australia’s squad, and yesterday bowled like a man who was thoroughly unprepared.

    O’Keefe’s trademark is his unrelenting accuracy, yet he laboured to find consistency in either his line or length. Too often he overpitched and allowed the Bangladesh batsman to drive him through the offside. At other times he dragged his deliveries down and created chances for the batsmen to slice him away off the back foot.

    It was, by some distance, the worst O’Keefe has bowled in his nine-Test career, which has yielded him a good record of 33 wickets at an average of 29. Meanwhile, Cummins was badly affected by the 31C heat and sapping humidity of Chittagong.

    After bowling eight overs in the first session, and then three more just after lunch, Cummins spent a significant amount of time off the field in the second session. Even after having a 20-minute break for tea, Cummins was unable to return to the field for the start of the final session.

    Captain Steve Smith saved Cummins for the second new ball, with which he bowled three overs and looked heavily fatigued. This raised questions about Cummins’ fitness given that 17 overs is by no means a heavy workload for a paceman on the first day of a Test, even in humid conditions.

    Cummins did, however, bowl gallantly on a dead pitch which offered minimal assistance to either pace or spin bowlers. Chittagong is the most batting-friendly Test pitch in Bangladesh.

    The average first innings total at Chittagong has been 390 across the past ten Tests at the ground, and 420 from the past five matches. But any score over 300 will be a good return for Bangladesh given Australia’s poor batting record in Asia and their tendency to crumble under scoreboard pressure.

    Australia had been in a position to roll Bangladesh for less than 200 thanks to some brilliant bowling by lead spinner Nathan Lyon. The veteran overcame the docile pitch to grab three wickets in the first session and a fourth just after lunch, before completing his five-for in the final session.

    Tamim Iqbal vs Australia

    (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad)

    This continued a lucrative patch of form for Lyon, who has the sensational figures of 33 wickets at 21 from his six Tests in Asia this year. Those stats are especially impressive when you consider that, prior to that, he had averaged 43 with the ball in Asia from 11 matches.

    Yesterday he earned four LBWs thanks to his testing length and deceptive changes of pace. The big improvement in Lyon’s bowling in India was his ability to trap batsmen on the crease, stuck between either going back or stretching forward.

    Again yesterday, he found that same perfect length and exploited it by mixing up his pace considerably, sometimes by as much as 12kmh between consecutive deliveries. Agar, too, did a fine job of tying up the Bangladesh batsmen, sending down six maidens from his 17 overs, compared to O’Keefe who didn’t manage even one.

    Australia need O’Keefe and Cummins to overcome their different struggles if they are to square the series at Chittagong.

    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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