Australia are bunnies in Asia no more

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

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    Australia have continued their renaissance in Asia after registering a comfortable win in the second Test in Bangladesh yesterday to draw the series.

    The visitors’ thumping win gave them a record of two wins, three losses and a draw from their six Tests in Asia this year, which is a fine return given they had lost their previous nine Tests on the subcontinent.

    There was exaggerated criticism of Australia after their narrow loss in the first Test to Bangladesh, a team which has become genuinely competitive in Tests, particularly over the past year. In that time Bangladesh drew 1-1 at home with England (a series they almost won 2-0) and also 1-1 away in Sri Lanka.

    It was Sri Lanka who handed Australia arguably their most humiliating series loss of the past decade when they hammered them 3-0 at home last year despite the Lions fielding a very inexperienced team.

    That defeat seemed to really sting the Australians, who subsequently overhauled their approach in Asia.

    Firstly, Australia sought to promote players they believed were well suited to playing in Asia.

    Secondly, their batsmen made a concerted effort to play the line of the ball in defence, having been beaten on the inside edge with alarming regularity in Sri Lanka.

    That second change has proven crucial – it is a key reason why Australia have batted considerably better in Bangladesh and India than they did in Sri Lanka. Australia’s bowlers had consistently done a good job for them on the road in the past but too often their labour had been undone by the batsmen.

    While Australia’s batting in Asia still needs to improve markedly, it is on a clear upward curve.

    The form curve is even steeper for the Australian who has improved in Asia more than any other this year – spinner Nathan Lyon. After taking nine wickets in the first Test at Dhaka, and then seven wickets in the first innings of this second Test, Lyon ran amok once more yesterday, grabbing 6-60.

    It continued a remarkable run for Lyon, who has taken 41 wickets at an average of 19 in Asia this year, including five five-wicket hauls.

    What makes this sequence of performances even more extraordinary is that Lyon was at serious risk of dropped from the Australian Test team last summer before being saved by an injury to Steve O’Keefe. Lyon had by far the worst home season of his career, averaging 50 with the ball across six Tests against Pakistan and South Africa, while conceding a hefty 3.62 runs per over.

    Lyon then arrived in India in February as the owner of a very poor Test record in Asia, with an average of 43 from 11 Tests. At that stage, the six Tests in India and Bangladesh shaped as the toughest challenge of Lyon’s career. Instead, they may well just be the catalyst for Lyon to make the leap from a solid Test spinner to a star bowler.

    He has been quite clearly the best spinner on either side in this series in Bangladesh, and in India he held his own against the world’s top two Test spinners Ravi Jadeja and Ravi Ashwin.

    Lyon long has been potent on hard, bouncy pitches but now appears to have unlocked the secret to dominating on dry, slow surfaces. He was only one of a number of Australians to produce very encouraging performances over the two series in Asia.

    David Warner scored back-to-back tons in Bangladesh, the first of which almost won the Dhaka Test for Australia and the second of which put them in a commanding position at Chittagong.

    Middle order batsman Peter Handscomb was nimble and assertive at the crease throughout both series, finishing with a reasonable average of 34 from the six Tests despite failing to capitalise on many good starts.

    Australian batsman Peter Handscomb

    (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

    Much-maligned all-rounder Glenn Maxwell did not quite cement his Test spot for the Ashes, but returned a healthy average of 37 from his four Tests in Bangladesh and India.

    Rookie paceman Pat Cummins showed he is one of the best young Test cricketers in the world, bowling with consistent pace, accuracy and intimidation factor en route to taking 14 wickets at 29 in Asia.

    And 23-year-old spinning all-rounder Ashton Agar was a handy contributor in Bangladesh, averaging 23 with the ball and 32 with the bat.

    With an average age of just 26.6 years, this is a very young Australian side which looks to have the ability and mindset to become a consistently competitive team in Asia.

    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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