Australia’s chances of ending their eight-year Test series drought in Asia have skyrocketed due to the long ban handed to superstar Shakib Al Hasan, who will miss the upcoming two-Test series in Bangladesh.
Shakib, who was dominant as Australia drew 1-1 in Bangladesh two years ago, has received a two-year ban from the ICC after he accepted three charges of breaching the ICC Anti-Corruption Code.
This ban, one year of which was suspended, was due to Shakib “failing to report corrupt approaches” to the ICC Anti-Corruption Unit. The Bangladesh all-rounder did not notify the ICC he had repeatedly been approached by a bookie who was seeking to get “inside information for betting purposes”.
This scandal is just the latest evidence of the deep ties and insidious influence that corrupt bookies have in cricket. It is a stain on the legacy of one of the greatest cricketers of the modern era and a thudding blow to Bangladesh cricket, which has taken enormous strides over the past decade.
Arguably the world’s best all-rounder, Shakib is the central pillar of the Bangladesh side in all three formats.
At 32 years old he is in his prime and is fresh from an astonishing 2019 World Cup campaign, during which he piled up 606 runs at 86, to go with 11 wickets.
He had been looming like a goliath over Australia’s Test series in Bangladesh in June. When Australia last toured there in August 2017 Shakib was phenomenal.
His accurate left arm spin was a constant threat to the Aussies as he took 12 wickets at 22. With the bat he won Bangladesh the first Test – a thriller with a margin of just 20 runs – after coming to the crease at 3-10 on day one and gliding to 84.
Looking ahead to Australia’s tour, Shakib will leave a monumental hole in the Bangladesh side. He is both their best bowler and their supreme batsman. Since the start of 2015 in Tests he has averaged 42 with the bat and 30 with the ball.
Shakib has been particularly commanding against non-Asian sides in that time, averaging 42 with the bat and 24 with the ball.
His bowling shaped as a major challenge for Australian champion Steve Smith, who is troubled by left arm spin more than any other style.
Last time around in Bangladesh, Smith had a quiet series with 119 runs at 29.
Yet Australia were the better side across that series, winning the second Test easily after narrowly losing the first Test.
With Shakib absent, Australia could well start the upcoming series as favourites. After being easybeats on the subcontinent for years, Australia have greatly improved their performances in Asia of late.
They pushed India to the final day of the four-Test series in early 2017, then drew 1-1 in Bangladesh, and managed one rousing draw in the UAE against Pakistan last year despite being without stars Smith, David Warner, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.
Regardless of all that progress, Australia still haven’t won a Test series in Asia for a long, long time.
Their most recent series triumph on the subcontinent was in 2011 when they won 1-0 in Sri Lanka. That was followed by a horror sequence in which Australia lost 4-0 in India in 2013, 2-0 in Pakistan in 2014 and 3-0 in Sri Lanka in 2016.
The cumulative impact of those three embarrassing performances saw Australia put far greater effort into their next series in Asia.
Prior to the 2017 Tests in India, Australia held an intensive training camp at home on pitches specially prepared to behave like turning Asian surfaces, and then did a second camp at ICC headquarters in Dubai.
This improved preparation saw them perform admirably across their 2017 series in India and Bangladesh. Now, however, with Bangladesh missing Shakib, Australia will have no excuses for not ending their drought in Asia.
Not only could a series win in Bangladesh break this hoodoo, but it would be a huge boost for Australia in the new World Test Championships.
Australia must ruthlessly take advantage of the absence of Shakib, in the same way that India steamrolled them last summer as they were without stars Smith and Warner.