Bangladesh tour could derail Australia’s Ashes plans

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By Ronan O'Connell, Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    Australia may have competed strongly in the Test series in India three months ago but they will be vulnerable in the upcoming two-Test series in Bangladesh without key bowlers Mitchell Starc and Steve O’Keefe.

    It was a similar away series last winter, against a low-ranked Asian opponent in Sri Lanka, which sent Australia’s Test team into a downward spiral and led to them being embarrassed at home by South Africa.

    There is a very real risk that a calamitous performance in Bangladesh could badly destabilise Australia and leave them fragile heading into the Ashes.

    On Friday, Australia announced their 13-man squad for the series in Bangladesh in August and September. Missing from it were injured quick Starc and spinner O’Keefe, who must surely have been dropped due to recent off-field disciplinary problems.

    National selector Trevor Hohns indicated O’Keefe had been dropped because of poor form. But it would beggar belief if that is the real reason, considering that in March O’Keefe single-handedly engineered Australia’s first Test win in Asia for six years.

    O’Keefe took 19 wickets at 23 in that series in India and has a fantastic Test record of 33 wickets at 27. Yet he’s being dropped for a 23-year-old spinner in Agar with a poor first-class bowling average of 40. The selectors are either incompetent or are being untruthful.

    Dumping an experienced spinner who has had success in Asia is especially risky when Australia are going to be without Starc, their best paceman on dry pitches. With 33 wickets at an average of 26 from his eight Tests in Asia, the left arm spearhead will leave a yawning gap in the Australian line-up.

    The absence of he and O’Keefe will greatly weaken the Australian attack. This series has the potential to badly hinder Australia’s Ashes preparations.

    Consider the similarities between last year’s tour of Sri Lanka and the series in Bangladesh. Right now, Australia have good momentum due to a 5-2 win-loss record since being rebuilt following their two crushing losses to the Proteas.

    It was the same story when they headed to Sri Lanka – the line-up had been overhauled after their 2015 defeat in England and the new-look team was on a roll, fresh from dominating the Kiwis home-and-away and destroying the Windies.

    At that stage, leading into the Sri Lankan series, the Australian team appeared set in stone, with a host of inexperienced players having cemented their places. Joe Burns looked like a long-term opener, averaging a tick under 50 from ten matches.

    Middle order batsman Adam Voges was in Bradman territory, averaging 95 from his 15 Tests.

    Wicketkeeper Peter Nevill was keeping well and showing signs of improvement with the blade. And first drop Usman Khawaja was in imperious touch, having piled up 713 runs at 102 since being recalled to the Australian team.

    Less than a year later none of those four players are incumbents in the Australian team. It was the Sri Lankan series which cost them their spots, either directly or indirectly. Burns and Khawaja struggled so badly they didn’t even survive to the third Test of that series, dropped after floundering at Pallekele and Galle.

    Joe Burns Australia cricket

    (AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHAN)

    Voges and Nevill managed to play the whole series but averaged just 19 and eight with the bat respectively. While they managed to keep their spots in the line-up it was clear heading into last summer that their positions were shaky.

    The Sri Lankan series left the Australian team in a state of turmoil and the Proteas ruthlessly exploited this fragility. The same fate could meet Australia if they are listless in Bangladesh.

    The likes of Matt Renshaw, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell and Pat Cummins have turned in some quality performances in recent Tests. Each of them looks capable of becoming a long-term member of the side.

    But the Sri Lankan series showed us how quickly things could change. A disastrous series in Bangladesh could leave Australia heading in to the Ashes needing to reconsider the positions of a host of players.

    Such instability would significantly improve England’s chances in the Ashes. As it stands, Australia are justifiably hot favourites to regain The Urn. In Australian conditions the home side have a quality top five and a far better and more ferocious bowling attack than England.

    I may be sounding overly-pessimistic given the impressive way Australia pushed India to the final day of the recent four-Test series before losing 2-1. That effort suggested Australia have made major improvements in their handling of Asian conditions.

    There have, however, been so many false dawns in Australian Test cricket over recent years that I can’t confidently back Australia to win in Bangladesh. Away from home Australia remain worryingly reliant on captain Steve Smith. Their attack has been consistently effective on the road but that now has been weakened greatly.

    And, bar Smith, they do not have a single batsman who is proven in Tests outside Australia.

    The likes of Handscomb, Renshaw and Maxwell are still Test rookies.

    Australia’s next best batsmen, after Smith, in Warner and Khawaja both have awful records in Asia. Warner averages just 30 from his 13 Tests in India, Sri Lanka and the UAE, while Khawaja has averaged 19 from his four Tests in Sri Lanka.

    Were Smith to have an off series in Sri Lanka, and surely such a form blip must occur at some point, Australia’s batting easily could fall apart on parched Bangladesh pitches against canny tweakers.

    Bangladesh are just as strong at home as the very inexperienced Sri Lankan team which destroyed Australia. In their most recent home series Bangladesh drew 1-1 with England.

    Bangladesh went achingly close to winning that series 2-0 – in the first Test they were 5-227 needing just 59 runs to triumph before collapsing to lose by 22 runs.

    Their spinners dominated the England batsmen, with star left armer Shakib-al-Hasan and off spin prodigy Mehedi Hasan Miraz combining for 31 wickets at an average of 17. The Bangladesh wickets favoured spin so heavily that the hosts, quite incredibly, only got one single wicket via pace bowling across the two Tests.

    Australia will surely face similar dustbowls if their tour goes ahead. That could play into their hands, as it did at Pune against India. Or it could cause their batting to unravel. Once again, a huge weight would rest on the shoulders of Smith.

    The tour of Bangladesh shapes as a potential minefield. A wrong step and Australia’s Ashes hopes could be wounded.

    Australia’s squad for Tour of Bangladesh
    Steve Smith (c)
    David Warner (vc)
    Ashton Agar
    Hilton Cartwright
    Patrick Cummins
    Peter Handscomb
    Josh Hazlewood
    Usman Khawaja
    Nathan Lyon
    Glenn Maxwell
    James Pattinson
    Matthew Renshaw
    Matthew Wade

    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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    The Crowd Says (84)

    • June 20th 2017 @ 6:49am
      Dom said | June 20th 2017 @ 6:49am | ! Report

      Great points. I think the selectors must (as in, should) have a team in mind they think is the best in Australian conditions, and they should pretty much stick to that side for the start of the Ashes no matter what happens in Bangladesh. If the horses-for-courses policy works for tours to Asia (ie Marsh in, Khawaja out, second spinner in the side) then it surely must work the other way back home too.

      Of course the Bangladesh series could still potentially hurt the team’s confidence if things go south, but as long as the selectors don’t panic it shouldn’t derail Australia’s chances in a broader sense.

      And it would have been nice if selectors gave the real reason for O’Keeffe’s sacking, both to confirm that poor off-field behavior matters and to reassure us that the selectors know what they’re doing and aren’t just playing favourites with ‘players of promise’ like Agar.

    • June 20th 2017 @ 7:31am
      Dan said | June 20th 2017 @ 7:31am | ! Report

      Should have given SOK a chance to redeem himself. We need 2 spinners and Agar is probably not going to be incisive enough. And Smith needs to bowl Maxy.

      • June 20th 2017 @ 9:06am
        rock said | June 20th 2017 @ 9:06am | ! Report

        Unfortunately SOK has no one to blame bar himself, he has had ample chances now to smarten up but continues to do stupid things in public when on the drink – he’s 32 and still hasn’t wised up, so is he ever going to?

        • June 20th 2017 @ 6:15pm
          twodogs said | June 20th 2017 @ 6:15pm | ! Report

          True Rock, but how many penalties should one pay for the same misdemeanor?

          • June 21st 2017 @ 11:58am
            matth said | June 21st 2017 @ 11:58am | ! Report

            There have been at least 3 incidents, the last one was just the worst. So he is a serial offender.

      • June 21st 2017 @ 7:20am
        Alan said | June 21st 2017 @ 7:20am | ! Report

        SOK isn’t the messiah he’s merely a naughty boy.

        • June 21st 2017 @ 11:34am
          bearfax said | June 21st 2017 @ 11:34am | ! Report

          No. I wont have that Alan. He is the Messiah and a naughty boy

    • June 20th 2017 @ 8:19am
      Sideline said | June 20th 2017 @ 8:19am | ! Report

      The Indian ODI series is not likely to help confidence, though I suspect they will rest a number of the test players in preparation for the Ashes.

      O’keefe deserved to be dropped for his behaviour, as it’s not the first time he’s been disciplined for misconduct on the drink. At the best of times it’s ridiculous to get on the sauce and abuse people, but it’s idiotic when you’re an incumbent Australian test player, and a possibility to become our no. 1 spinner. His actions have hurt his nation’s chances in this series.

    • June 20th 2017 @ 8:36am
      BurgyGreen said | June 20th 2017 @ 8:36am | ! Report

      A lot of weight on Lyon’s shoulders. I think Agar will struggle for impact so Lyon needs to be incisive. We can’t be leaving all the work to two pace bowlers as we did in Sri Lanka. Here’s hoping he can replicate his work in the second Test in India.

      • Roar Rookie

        June 20th 2017 @ 12:28pm
        savage said | June 20th 2017 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

        he failed in second innings of that test against india

      • Roar Guru

        June 20th 2017 @ 3:40pm
        Giri Subramanian said | June 20th 2017 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

        Lyon needs to attack and I think the Indian series would have given him that confidence. He will now be more attacking in these conditions. Agar needs to be accurate and provide control from the other end. The pacers will do well. I don’t think there needs to be any worries about them. Cummins was brilliant in India, he bowled with pace and accuracy. Hazlewood was steady and will continue to choke runs and put pressure on Bangladesh Batsmen.

    • June 20th 2017 @ 8:55am
      Christo the Daddyo said | June 20th 2017 @ 8:55am | ! Report

      Geez, negative much?

      “This series has the potential to badly hinder Australia’s Ashes preparations.”

      “A disastrous series in Bangladesh could leave Australia heading in to the Ashes needing to reconsider the positions of a host of players.”

      Equally, if the current players perform well, this tour could be the best thing for the team.

      Glass is half full sometimes Ronan! 🙂

    • Roar Guru

      June 20th 2017 @ 9:00am
      Chris Kettlewell said | June 20th 2017 @ 9:00am | ! Report

      I’m not entirely sold on Ashton Agar either, but you need to look beyond just the raw stats.

      His career average may be 40 compared to SOK’s in the mid-20’s. But his average in the 4 matches he played last season was 27, which was much better, plus Agar plays for WA, so his home ground is the worst pitch for spinners in the country, compared to SOK who plays for NSW and his home ground is the best one for spinners in the country. In the one match Agar played at the SCG last season he got 10 wickets for the match. So in more dusty, spinning conditions he’s shown he can actually bowl well, and he may well not be so far from SOK’s equal as overall stats suggest.

      SOK really hasn’t done himself any favours with his off-field behaviour. I suspect it’s things like that which have continually seen others selected in front of SOK in the past also, despite his superior record. And that’s totally reasonable for CA to make that decision, though, I also agree that it would be better for CA to simply come out and admit that’s why he’s not selected, rather than pretend it’s just all performance reasons.

      Selections like Warner and Khawaja had to be made, really, who’s are they going to pick in their place. Picking Marsh over Khawaja because he was supposedly good in those conditions backfired in India. They need to pick their best players and give them every opportunity to just keep improving in those conditions and find ways to survive.

      Starc – I think his loss isn’t as big as it could be because in Cummins and Pattinson we have two other bowlers who have the ability to do the sorts of things Starc did in Sri Lanka. In truth, looking at Hazlewood’s returns in Sri Lanka and India, I’d almost be tempted to go into the first test with Cummins and Pattinson as the two quicks as they are the two fast bowlers we’ve got (along with Starc) most likely to be able to be effective in those sorts of conditions.

      They certainly can’t take this series lightly. They need to go into this series as prepared as they did the India series. If they do that I think they will probably win, if they just treat it as a quick in, quick out, get it over with type trip then they may well come off second best.

      • Columnist

        June 20th 2017 @ 11:15am
        Ronan O'Connell said | June 20th 2017 @ 11:15am | ! Report

        Chris I think Agar has the talent to become an excellent Test cricketer. My issue is purely that, as a bowler, he’s not on the same level as SOK at this point and I think Australia’s attack will be weakened significantly as a result.

        Agar is still very young for a spinner, and an all-rounder, at just 23 years old so he is still probably 4-5 years away from entering his peak years.

        • June 20th 2017 @ 11:31am
          Ross said | June 20th 2017 @ 11:31am | ! Report

          At least the selectors got the call on Khawaja right, he should never have been dropped for marsh after marsh averaged only 21 in the India series while Khawaja looked so much better against spin in the series against Pakistan in the hime summer. I do agree that Sok should have been picked, punish him with a fine but don’t drop the giu who did so well in India

        • Roar Guru

          June 20th 2017 @ 12:30pm
          Chris Kettlewell said | June 20th 2017 @ 12:30pm | ! Report

          Possibly, and I have been someone who has promoted the SOK selection over the years, but I do wonder if Agar wouldn’t have a significantly better career F/C if he played for NSW and the SCG was his home ground, instead of playing out of the WACA and having one game per year there. He’d most likely still be behind SOK, but the difference would probably not be as much as it looks. If faced with a Pune style pitch, I think Agar could probably be extremely dangerous also.

          And lets face it, despite what they say, we all know that SOK’s own off-field actions have pretty much made him unselectable, and he may have put the nail the coffin of his international career there. And with then considered not an option, Ashton may turn out to be not such a bad selection. Sure, he might not quite be up to SOK’s level yet, but if SOK is not going to be considered, Ashton isn’t too bad a choice to go to a place where the conditions may really suit him.

          • June 20th 2017 @ 5:28pm
            Armchair Expert said | June 20th 2017 @ 5:28pm | ! Report

            Chris, You could mount the same argument for Agar having a better batting record by playing so many shield games at the WACA, also Lyon has a very ordinary bowling record on the SCG and as a few have pointed out, if SOK is black banned from the test team, cricket Australia needs come clean on it, rather than playing that orchestrated political bs.

        • June 20th 2017 @ 12:56pm
          Nudge said | June 20th 2017 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

          Although, if Agar can average 35 with the ball this series compared to Sok in Indias average of 24, but Agar averages 25 to 30 with the bat, doesn’t that nearly make up his 10 run deficieny with the ball. Agar at 8 could be very very handy. In India it was often 6 out all out. Not to mention Agar would be one of the best fielders in the world

          • June 21st 2017 @ 9:11am
            jameswm said | June 21st 2017 @ 9:11am | ! Report

            Patinson and Cummins can seriously bat too, esp Pattinson. Not sure how well they can bat in India, but I expect our tail to really wag in the Ashes. Starc in there too.

            • June 21st 2017 @ 12:41pm
              George said | June 21st 2017 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

              Those guys are better than No’s 6 and 7 probably.

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