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Bangladesh pull rank on Aussie batters

Bangladesh boast the world's best allrounder and a top-order far more potent than the one Australia faced in 2006

For Australia's previous Test tour to Bangladesh in April 2006, the host nation understood that their bowlers might be capable of raising concern among the cricket world's undisputed super power labouring in an unfamiliar environment.

But, with just one batter – their stoic captain, Habibul Bashar – rated among the Test game's top 50 they would always struggle to outscore an Australian line-up that featured five names (Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn, Michael Hussey and Adam Gilchrist) who outranked their skipper on that list.

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But for a bout of skittishness when history beckoned in the first of that series' two Tests, which saw Bangladesh lose 6-24 and all chance of a deserved win at Fatullah, that campaign would be remembered for outcomes even less credible than Jason Gillespie's subsequent double century.

Eleven years on, and the starkly disparate divide between the nations – at least according to Test cricket's dubious rankings system - has narrowed significantly.

Australia are no longer Test cricket's world heavyweight, currently rated fourth-best and their touring party includes the same number of top 50-ranked batters (five) as does the squad that Bangladesh have named for the first match of the two-Test series.

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And while Australia's captain Steve Smith retains his hold on the top rung of Test batting, Bangladesh boasts its own number one – the world's best allrounder in all formats, Shakib Al Hasan – as well as a top-order that (on spreadsheet, at least) appears far more potent than their 2006 iteration.

The other Australian batters rated among the world's top 50 – David Warner (11), Usman Khawaja (14), Peter Handscomb (38) and Matthew Renshaw (39) – arrived in Dhaka bearing better preparation than their 2006 predecessors but with not quite the swagger of Ponting, Hayden, Gilchrist et al.

Warner's imposing Test average of around 60 on Australian pitches drops to half that return in Asian conditions; Khawaja could not force his way into the starting XI during the four-Test tour of India earlier this year and Handscomb and Renshaw have been part of just one offshore Test campaign (India) prior to this trip.

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By comparison, Bangladesh's likely top five for the opening Test in Dhaka starting on Sunday (August 27) includes four of the nation's top 10 run-scorers from their 17-year Test history.

In addition to Shakib (the world's 16th-ranked batter), the Tigers will rely heavily upon their all-time leading scorer Tamim Iqbal – who, like second-placed Shakib, will play his 50th Test match in Dhaka – as well as Mushfiqur Rahim who sits at number three on that run-makers' list.

Tamim, who was to have played for English county Essex during the current T20 Blast competition but hurriedly left the UK for personal reasons before the tournament began, is a hard-hitting left-handed opener cast from the Warner mould.

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His eight Test centuries are the most by any Bangladesh batter and, despite his team's limited exposure to the game's elite format (since that 2006 series, Australia have contested 119 Test matches which is more than double their rivals' 56), he has posted hundreds at venues as diverse as Lord's, Old Trafford and Kingston, Jamaica.

However, it's the home record of Tamim, Shakib, Mushfiqur and fellow top 50-ranked batters, Mominul Haque and Soumya Sarkar, that might prove decisive given Australia's recent record in Asia that reveals two Test wins from 22 starts since Ponting's men departed Chittagong in April, 2006.

Only two members of Australia's current batting line-up can claim Test averages above 30 in Asian conditions stretching from Galle on Sri Lanka's southern coast to Abu Dhabi on the Arabian Gulf – Smith (51.48 from 11 Test appearances) and Warner (30.38 from 13).

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While Bangladesh's top-order scarcely poses the same threat level as that of star-strewn India earlier this year, they can point to the reality that Tamim (39.22), his likely opening partner Sarkar (32.64), Mominul (50.96), Mushfiqur (38.93) and Shakib (40.69) all boast superior Asian batting averages to all the Australians bar Smith.

Sarkar, who bowls useful medium pace and has been used as a first-change option in Tests, is yet to post a century from his seven Test appearances but was solidly consistent against the new ball when given his chance in recent away series against New Zealand, India and Sri Lanka.

Although he played a pivotal role in Bangladesh's memorable 2015 World Cup win against England in Adelaide, he is better known in Australian circles as being the bowler who dared perform a 'Mankad' against Queenslander Jimmy Peirson during an under-19 match at Townsville.

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Mominul is regarded by many as Bangladesh's pre-eminent batter against spin bowling, which is why his exclusion from the initial squad for the first Test (albeit for barely 24 hours) prompted widespread debate until a meeting between the Bangladesh Cricket Board president and selectors cleared a path for his return.

All four of Mominul's Test centuries to date have been made on Bangladeshi soil, with three of them posted at Chittagong where the second Test is scheduled from September 4.

Hailing from Cox's Bazar, the stretch of coastline south of Chittagong that lays claim to being the world's longest stretch (120km) of uninterrupted sandy beach, Mominul is – along with Tamim, Sarkar and Shakib – among a preponderance of left-handers in Bangladesh's top-order.

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Among the top half of the hosts' batting order, there's a possibility that captain and wicketkeeper Mushfiqur will be the sole right-hander, a scenario that suggests Australia's premier spinner Nathan Lyon might be utilised with the new ball given his stock off-break turns away from left-handers.

Mushfiqur, who made his Test debut as a 16-year-old during Bangladesh's 2005 tour to England which was also when the Tigers famously defeated Ponting's ODI outfit at Cardiff, is the only member of either squad whose career extends back to Australia's previous Test visit to the Islamic nation.

Although he didn't play in that most recent Test battle between the countries, the 29-year-old skipper is his team's most experienced players and will be the batter to whom Bangladesh look to defend and rebuild should they lose early wickets to Australia's seam and spin attack.

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Cricket watchers the world over were shocked to see Mushfiqur loaded on to a stretcher and transferred to an ambulance that was driven on to the field at Wellington's Basin Reserve earlier this year when he was struck on the back of the head by a bouncer from Black Caps' quick Tim Southee.

The lively conditions in New Zealand presented a stark contrast to the low, slow pitches in Bangladesh where batters are rarely tested by overtly aggressive fast bowling.

If the tactics employed by Australia's Pat Cummins during the final two Tests in India last March provide a template, Mushfiqur and his top-order teammates are likely to see plenty more short-pitched stuff heading their way in the coming Tests.

Australia in Bangladesh 2017

Australia squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Ashton Agar, Jackson Bird, Hilton Cartwright, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Renshaw, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade.

Bangladesh squad: Mushfiqur Rahim (c), Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Imrul Kayes, Shakib Al Hasan, Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Sabbir Rahman, Nasir Hossain, Liton Das, Taskin Ahmed, Shafiul Islam, Mustafizur Rahman, Taijul Islam, Mominul Haque.


27-31 August First Test, Dhaka


4-8 September Second Test, Chittagong