In the lead-up to the Qantas Tour of Bangladesh, six questions were raised regarding the Test XI and the series in general.
Now that the tour is over having finished deadlocked at one-all, it’s time to answer those questions with one eye on the upcoming Magellan Ashes.
Q. Who will fill the No.3 position?
A. Usman Khawaja was recalled for the opening Test in Dhaka and returned to his favoured No.3 position. But scores of one and one, including a nervy run out in the first innings, led to Khawaja’s axing for the second match in Chittagong. Skipper Steve Smith moved up one spot from No.4 and batted at first-drop while allrounder Hilton Cartwright came in for the Queenslander. Khawaja’s average in Asia now sits at 14.62 from five Tests, but his sterling average of 77.50 at home, and the backing of head coach Darren Lehmann, means the stylish left-hander is likely to return to No.3 for the first Ashes Test in Brisbane.
"I would think Usman would play the first Test match," said Lehmann, one of three Test selectors. "For the make-up of the side we changed it here, but we think he’s a pretty special player and obviously he’s got a really good record in Australia."
Q. Is Ashton Agar ready for a Test return?
A. After a four-year absence, Agar returned to Test cricket and didn’t look out of place. Picked as Nathan Lyon’s spin twin in the first Test, the left-arm orthodox spinner claimed 5-101 with the ball and dug in with a vital unbeaten 41 with the bat. Another two wickets followed in Chittagong but he was barely used in the second innings as Stephen O’Keefe was preferred by Smith. Agar showed he has the all-round game to succeed in the subcontinent and is likely to be a huge part of Australia’s plans when they return to India in four years’ time.
Q. What happens if Steve Smith fails?
A. The world doesn’t end, but it’s significantly more difficult for Australia to post a big score. By Smith’s standards, which were raised after his record-breaking tour of India earlier this year, he didn’t have a great tour. In four innings he scored 119 runs at 29.75 with just one half-century. What was perhaps most telling for Smith and his charges was the washed-out practice match that denied the Australians a chance to have a hit in foreign conditions. Couple that lack of match practice with a difficult wicket and a determined Bangladesh side and it becomes easier to see why Smith’s batting unit struggled in the first Test. With a match in the bank, Australia were much improved in Chittagong. Fortunately, in this series when Smith failed another senior batsman stepped up.
Q. Can Warner end his Asian famine?
A. He can and he did. The diminutive opener feasted on the Tigers bowling in scoring two centuries and proving the doubters wrong that he can make runs in the subcontinent. Warner fell cheaply in the first innings in Dhaka but then changed his game plan, notably using his feet more, to score 112 – his first century away from home in almost three years. He then backed it up with 123 in the second Test, his slowest Test century coming from 209 balls. Those centuries will do Warner’s confidence the world of good after a disappointing tour of India (193 runs at 24.13) ahead of the Ashes and future trips to Asia.
"The way he's adapted ... and actually gone about in a different way in the last couple of innings has been spectacular," the coach said after day two in Chittagong with Warner 88 not out at stumps.
"He only hit four boundaries today which is unusual for him. They spread the field quite a lot so it was hard for him to hit boundaries and play on the basis of how he (normally) plays.
"He led the way in how we wanted to play in that partnership. It's what you want from your leaders. He's been excellent, especially in the last couple of innings.
"He's that talented, he's probably got it now."
Q. Is Maxwell a long-term middle-order man?
A. Maxwell had a solid if not spectacular series. With scores of 23, 14, 38 and 25 not out he was unable to put that big innings together and guarantee his spot in the Test XI. While he looks to be right in the mix when Australia travel to the subcontinent, it remains unclear where he sits in the pecking order on home soil. Speaking after the second Test, Lehmann said the No.6 spot is still up for grabs for that first Ashes Test, with Maxwell one of the prime contenders.
"We’ll certainly be looking at that position," Lehmann said.
"Anyone can jump out of the pack in the three Shield games and (come into) what we think the best make-up is for that first Test.
"Glenn is there at the moment (but) like everyone else, he’ll have to perform."
Q. Will the weather hold out?
A. Yes! For the most part the rain stayed away. The forecast looked dire ahead of both matches but fortunately the sun was keen for some Test cricket so it shone brightly for a majority of the series.