Things were not supposed to go like this, right? How could a team that won just nine of their previous 100 Tests even dare to beat the Australians? The same mighty Australians who have the most number of Test victories to their name till date. Yet, Bangladesh defied all those numbers stacked against them to register their first ever Test victory against Australia. They had to wait 11 long years to meet the Aussies in another Test match after their last defeat against them in 2006 had taken their record to a dismal four defeats in as many number of matches.
When the wait ended, they grabbed the opportunity with both hands and left Australia in a spin.
Steve Smith and Co came to Bangladesh on the back of two successive Test series losses in the sub-continent. It started with the 3-0 whitewash they suffered at the hands of Sri Lanka in August last year. Their next Asian assignment was in India where they made a promising start with a massive victory in the first Test at Pune but didn’t have a good outing in the next three matches and thus went on to lose the series 1-2.
Australia were in an unbeaten run of eight Tests before they faltered against Sri Lanka. That whitewash brought out a glaring weakness of the Australian batsmen. And that weakness was their inability to cope with quality spin attack. Rangana Herath and Lakshan Sandakan did the damage in Sri Lanka and that was followed up by Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in India.
The Bangladeshi Tigers could smell blood and started chalking out their plans with spin being the focus for Australian. The battle had begun with Bangladeshi all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan’s remarks even before the players took the field at Mirpur. “I don’t see why it can’t be possible. Our expectation: winning both Tests,” Shakib had told reporters in Dhaka prior to the beginning of the match.
Smith had not taken it lightly. Aussies generally don’t take it well when someone challenges their might. Smith was no exception to that. The Aussies are well known known to be verbally active and the pre-match press-conference saw Smith taking a dig at Shakib’s remarks.
“Pretty confident, aren’t they? I think Bangladesh have won only nine out of their 100 games. So it’s very confident prediction. The comment surprised me a little bit. But obviously they are confident about their skill set at the moment. They are at home. Most teams played pretty well in the home. Bangladesh have been playing well at home. So it’s gonna be a good challenge for us,” Smith had said.
However, the numbers mattered the least at the end of the match. The same team that had some nine victories to its name ended up being victorious over the team that had 377 victories to their name in some 800 odd Tests. And ‘spin to win’ was the mantra once again that Bangladesh used to trump Australia.
Australia’s problem against spin is not something new. They haven’t won a series in the sub-continent since 2011 and have been clean swept twice in the course of the period. More importantly, spinners were at the center of it all to lead the downfall of the Aussies.
This present crop of Australian players already have an experience of at least two tours to Asia. Yet, they haven’t learned from their mistakes. They haven’t even showed a slight improvement. Is it that difficult for the rest of the batsmen to score 107 more runs when one of their batsmen had already scored 112? A collapse of 8/86 on the final day of the Mirpur Test saw Australia go from a position of dominance at 158/2 to being bowled out for 244 runs. And Bangladesh's spinners accounted for all of those wickets.
The Australian batsmen had no answers to the questions raised by the Bangladeshi spinners. When the ball turned square, they couldn’t get their bat on the ball and when the ball slid on with the arm they couldn’t read it either. They were desperately searching for the answers through out the Test.
When the Bangladeshi players were busy making plans to tackle the visitors, the Australian players were busy whining over their payments. They wasted a significant amount of time running after issues that had the least to deal with their skills and technique. They took Bangladesh too lightly and the result is in front of them now.
A lot has to do with the player selection as well. The inclusion and exclusion of Mathew Wade and Steve O’Keefe respectively doesn’t make any sense at all. Wade doesn’t look like a proper fit either as a batsman or as a wicket-keeper. Australia conceded 30 byes in total in the first Test against Bangladesh, 15 of which came in each innings. 30 extra runs in a low scoring affair is a pretty grave thing and the wicket-keeper stands responsible for it.
As far as his batting is concerned, it is not up to the mark as well. His overall career batting average of 29.26 drops even lower to 22.71 in sub-continental conditions. That is not acceptable from a player who is considered to be a better batsman than other wicket-keepers in contention.
On the other hand, Steve O’keefe, the player who took 19 wickets in the 4-match Test series against India six months back was surprisingly excluded from this squad. He has excellent bowling averages of 23.26 and 24.66 in India and Sri Lanka respectively. It’s good that they have finally included him in the squad for the second Test as a replacement for the injured Josh Hazlewood.
Australia can’t afford any more defeats now. Their reputation is at stake. Their sentiment and pride has been hurt. Would that be enough to fire them up for good showing in the second Test? We can only wait and see. They are already one match down in the series and they can’t afford one more loss. For, it would lead them to another whitewash in Asia in a span of just one year. They have been in a spin for a long time now. It remains to be seen whether they can counter the spin this time.