The English summer rain is currently leading the race to be named the player of the series at this year’s ICC Champions Trophy. It is certainly doing the most damage and having plenty of impact on the cricket. Just a few days after being saved by inclement weather in Birmingham against New Zealand, rain once again spoiled a match involving Australia, this time at The Oval in London.
Ironically, although the Australians are unlikely to see the funny side, this time the weather stood in their way denying them a likely victory. Australia sit on two points after their first two games and now must beat England in their last match to advance, exactly the position they would be in had there been no rain at all.
Smith and his men will be extremely frustrated at being denied victory by the weather, particularly because they had appeared a completely different side to the one that took the field against New Zealand. While there was only one change to the playing eleven, John Hastings making way for leg-spinner Adam Zampa, the energy with which the Australians took the field was a stark turnaround from the flat and lethargic looking team from the New Zealand match.
After the rain-affected draw against their Trans- Tasman rivals captain Steve Smith blasted his bowlers and called the performance one of the worst he had seen. The captain wanted a response from his fast bowlers, and he got it against Bangladesh.
Josh Hazlewood had been Australia’s best against the Black Caps, and started as he finished the previous game. The metronomic opener immediately settled into a good rhythm and found the right length on a largely unhelpful surface to trouble the Bangladesh openers. After a slow start by the Tigers openers, Hazlewood found the edge of Soumya Sarkar’s bat to claim the first wicket of the day.
Hazlewood’s opening partner Mitchell Starc also appeared in much better rhythm than he did during his side’s first match, clearly better off for the match practice after a long injury lay-off. The big left armer was once again full and searching for swing, of which there was little, but his pace and tight lines managed to keep a lid on the scoring and his short balls drew some false shots.
Australia’s tactic was clear, once they worked out there was no swing on offer they dragged their lengths back to back of a good length and didn’t allow the Bangladesh batsmen the room to free their arms. They mixed their good lengths with some well-directed short deliveries in a bid to unsettle batsmen they believed were suspect against top quality fast bowling.
The biggest boost for Smith was the return to form of Pat Cummins. Cummins had been well down on form against New Zealand and was perhaps lucky to hold his place ahead of Hastings, but the selectors faith in the express quick, and their desire for raw pace, was repaid by a switched on and fiery fast bowler. Cummins bothered the Bangladesh batsmen with raw pace, and was particularly disconcerting for the batsmen with his barrage of short deliveries. Most pleasing for Cummins and the Australians was the absence of the regular short and wide deliveries that marred his spells against New Zealand. Cummins spell of eight overs, one wicket for just 22 runs was impressive and if he can maintain the form and rhythm against England he could well be a handful even for an in-form English batting line-up.
Interestingly Zampa was held back on a dry surface that did offer the leg-spinner some turn when he was eventually introduced into the attack after part time off-spinner Travis Head had bowled eight tidy overs and claimed the big wicket of Shakib Al-Hasan. When Zampa was thrown the ball in the 35th over, the bright-haired South Australian had an immediate impact removing Sabbir Rahman with just his second delivery and went on to claim the wicket of Mahmadullah to finish with two wickets from four overs.
Starc then returned to get rid of the Tamim Iqbal for 95 and clean up the tail in trademark Starc fashion. Bowling fast, full and straight, Starc was just too good for the Bangladeshi tail and displayed just how effective he can be at the back end of the innings. The left armer finished with figures of 4/29 from 8.3 overs which included a triple wicket maiden and his captain will be pleased that his spearhead has now found his groove.
Clinical is the best way to describe Australia’s performance in the field, far better than the ragged display in their tournament opener. And just as the poor bowling in that match spread to their batting, so too did the clinical efficiency of their bowling at The Oval.
After Aaron Finch was dismissed for 19, and he might struggle to keep Chris Lynn out of the side for the showdown against the old enemy, Smith and David Warner went about knocking off the runs without much fuss.
Both captain and vice-captain looked fluent and rarely troubled at the crease and were cruising to victory before rain intervened yet again. While the end result will be disappointing for the Australians, Smith will be pleased with the way his bowlers responded to the challenge he threw at them during the week and will be hoping for more of the same against England in what is now a must-win clash against their Ashes rivals.