Australia ponder lone quick for Chittagong Test

Selectors will consider an option not seen for almost 40 years in a bid to square series

The decision to rush spinner Steve O'Keefe to Bangladesh as a replacement for injured seamer Josh Hazlewood raises the prospect of Australia implementing a bowling strategy all-but unseen in their post-war Test history to try and salvage a series-levelling win in Bangladesh.

If, as would seem feasible given the decision to substitute a pace bowler with a Test-capped spinner, O'Keefe is a genuine chance to play in the second Test starting in Chittagong next week, it appears Australia are toying with the unlikely notion of employing a solitary specialist quick.

Pat Cummins will fill that role, and should the as-yet unseen Chittagong pitch bear similarities to the one prepared in Dhaka for the first Test then the tourists might be sorely tempted to employ three spinners (Nathan Lyon, Ashton Agar and O'Keefe) and elevate seam-bowling allrounder Hilton Cartwright to nominally share the new ball.

Captain Steve Smith was non-committal post-match when asked whether the possibility of playing Cummins as a lone quick was a realistic one.

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"We've got the options to do what we want to do in the second Test match," Smith said. "In the end it's up to the selectors which way they want to go.

"If the wicket suits, yeah (we're comfortable with just one paceman). If it's a similar-looking wicket to (Dhaka) then it's certainly a possibility.

"We'll have to wait and see when we get to Chittagong what the wicket's like and make an assessment then."

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Cartwright's recall for a second Test after his debut against Pakistan last January would necessitate the culling of a batsman, with struggling left-hander Usman Khawaja the most likely to make way after an unproductive return to the number three berth in Australia's 20-run defeat sealed today.

Khawaja's aggregate of two in the first Test, alongside his Test average on Asian pitches of 13 makes him vulnerable and his omission would enable Smith – who scored three centuries and averaged 71 batting at number three in India earlier this year – to be reinstated at first drop.

Should Australia opt for that strategy and overlook Jackson Bird, the auxiliary seamer in the 14-man squad who under normal circumstances be a shoe-in for Hazlewood's berth, then it would represent the first time in 40 years that Australia have planned to enter a Test with a single, recognised pace bowler.

The most recent occasion came in Jamaica during Australia's politically charged Caribbean tour of 1978 when, at the height of the World Series Cricket fracture, they went into the final Test at Sabina Park with batting allrounder Trevor Laughlin (father of Adelaide Strikers' BBL bowler, Ben) as Jeff Thomson's new-ball partner.

A bulk of the bowling duties in that riot-marred match were shared by spin duo Bruce Yardley and Jim Higgs with back-up from Bob Simpson's part-time leg-spin and Graham Yallop's similarly occasional medium pace.

There was a period in the late 1990s when Australia teams playing in spin-friendly conditions would utilise Colin Miller to bowl his seamers with the new-ball before he reverted to off-spin, but the rain-plagued 1938 Ashes series in England remains the most recent campaign in which Australia routinely named a Test XI with a lone quick.

In those days, it was Victorian speedster Ernie McCormick who regularly opened the bowling in tandem with either leg-spinner Bill O'Reilly or medium-pacer (and specialist top-order batter) Stan McCabe.

The other options available to the National Selection Panel, in consultation with Smith, once they have sighted the strip being prepared in Chittagong, are:

• Make a straight swap in the XI that succumbed to Bangladesh for the first time in Tests, with either Bird or O'Keefe replacing Hazlewood and no other change to the first Test line-up

• Play both Bird and O'Keefe and divest a batsman (potentially Khawaja) to provide an attack of five specialist bowlers plus spin-bowling allrounder Glenn Maxwell

The last option appears the least likely, with a depletion of batting resources a risk given that opener David Warner's fighting century today made him the only Australia batter to post a score above 50 in his team's historic defeat.

Bird would justifiably consider himself hard done by if the selectors spring a major philosophical change and choose the single-quick option, but the decision not to install another seamer in the touring party when Hazlewood was hurt betrays the panel's thinking.

"With Jackson Bird in the squad we are comfortable with our fast-bowling options for the second Test and have elected to add an additional spinner given the conditions we are likely to face in Chittagong," NSP chair Trevor Hohns said in announcing O'Keefe's call-up today.

The dry, over-cooked Dhaka pitch that exhibited sharp turn and inconsistent bounce from day one of the first Test made the pace bowlers all-but redundant, and again highlighted Australia's batting inadequacies in spin-friendly conditions.

Even allowing for the reality that Hazlewood was hobbled early on day three, pace accounted for barely one quarter of the total overs bowled by both teams in the opening Test and it would be fair to assume a third spinner might represent better value for Australia if conditions in Chittagong meet expectations.

Reinforcing that view is the fact that Bangladesh remains in the shadow of the annual monsoon season and the lush outfields found at this time of year do little to impart wear and tear on the ball, thereby ensuring that reverse swing is not a weapon available to the seamers.

Consequently, once the ball loses its sheen and hardness there is little on offer for the quicks which would likely consign Bird – who does not boast the express pace and intimidation factor of Cummins – to a bit part after his initial handful of overs.

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It's for that reason that O'Keefe's inclusion ahead of a substitute seamer is logical – an additional pace bowler in the squad would only have been needed if Cummins or Bird (or even both) were at risk of being ruled unfit prior to the second Test starting next Monday.

What was perhaps more surprising was the decision to bring back O'Keefe after he was overlooked for the original 14-man squad behind fellow left-arm orthodox Agar and 23-year-old leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson, which in itself is an indication that Swepson seems unlikely to earn a Test debut.

Which raises the question of why he was preferred to O'Keefe in the initial touring party.

The answer is possibly because, while Australia already has a left-arm finger spinner in its XI and uncapped Swepson's leg breaks spin in the same direction as 32-year-old O'Keefe's orthodox, they are vastly different bowlers as well as being at opposite ends of the experience spectrum.

O'Keefe's player-of-the-match effort in the first Test against India at Pune last February (12-70 from 28.1 overs) was achieved on the sort of overly dry pitch that many expect to find in Chittagong despite the recent rainfall.

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His ability to bowl from a low release point and skid the ball into a batter's pads, as well as spin it away from right-handers (of which there is admittedly a paucity in Bangladesh's top-order) makes him appear a more potent threat than Swepson, who is still learning his difficult craft.

And Australia will need poise as well as vastly improved performance if they are to stop a surging Bangladesh from completing a famous series clean sweep, a fast Smith acknowledged plainly.

"Obviously we're down one-nil down in a two-match series so (there's) plenty of pressure to perform and hopefully level the series in Chittagong," he said. "It's another good challenge for this group.

"Obviously (it's) disappointing not to get the result we would have liked here but we're going to be looking forward to Chittagong and hopefully we'll be able to right a few of the wrongs that we made out here."

Australia in Bangladesh 2017

Australia squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Ashton Agar, Jackson Bird, Hilton Cartwright, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell, Steve O'Keefe, 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, Bangladesh won by 20 runs

4-8 September Second Test, Chittagong