Does Australia only care about playing the Ashes and touring India? Think again.
A 1-0 loss or even a 1-1 result against Bangladesh will ensure a slip down to No. 5 in the Test rankings. A 2-0 loss can take them down to as low as No. 6.
You think teams don’t care for rankings? When you are considered one of the best teams in the world, even the risk of slipping to No. 6 does not sit well.
Does Bangladesh care much for the Australians? Prediction of crowd sizes in Dhaka and Chittagong don’t bode well; the Tests are on either side of Eid-ul-Azha, a religious holiday where many return to their hometowns and villages for at least a week.
Prospects for the team bode better – this Bangladesh side should be the first to seriously challenge Australia in Tests, and, at the same time, give themselves an opportunity to climb from the No. 9 position in the Test rankings.
This, of course, is the series that was postponed in 2015 because of security concerns. At that time Bangladesh were getting to grips with a new kind of terrorism, which culminated in the July 1 attack on the Holey Artisan Café in Dhaka last year. England’s tour was under threat until the ECB, following thorough security scrutiny, decided to go ahead with it. It was overbearing, but the tightest security measures were non-negotiable.
Word of those security levels reached Cricket Australia as it sent its security head for a first-hand look, and it has now seemingly paved the way for this tour to go ahead. CA had sent other inspection teams before the tour but it remains happy as the BCB has guaranteed the same security level that was given to England last year.
And the importance of them coming, having postponed the 2015 Test tour and pulled out of the 2016 Under-19 World Cup, cannot be underestimated. This tour should warm up an often distant and cool relationship between the two cricketing nations.
Out of their 11 Test tours to the subcontinent since 2000, Australia have been to Bangladesh just once – in 2006. If a few things had gone the home side’s way in that first Test in Fatullah, CA may have had more reasons to send teams to Bangladesh but instead that tour has remained a solitary bit of curiosity – remembered for a heartbreaking Bangladesh loss, police beating up journalists during a Test match and Jason Gillespie’s double-hundred as a nightwatchman in Chittagong.
But, over the last five years, the Bangladesh team’s performance has assumed centerstage in discussions about tours here. They have become increasingly competitive against teams like West Indies and New Zealand and have dominated Zimbabwe. Two Test wins in the last year doesn’t say much but it is the type of progress that is making Australia sit up straight and notice Bangladesh.
In fact both sides seem to have a lot of respect for each other, to a degree that their preparations have been quite extensive. While the Australians were distracted by the pay dispute, the Darwin camp was designed to give them the conditions closest to Dhaka and Chittagong. They also arrived in Bangladesh nine days before the first Test and, although the two-day practice match in Fatullah was called off, they are making best use of facilities at the Academy ground in Mirpur.
The hosts, meanwhile, have been involved in intensive training since July 10. The first two weeks were spent working purely on fitness before they moved to work in the nets at the end of the month. The BCB brought in Mark O’Neill, the batting coach, on a one-month contract to iron out batting chinks. He has even worked with tail-enders, who have been notoriously poor in the last few years. They played a practice match in Chittagong earlier this month before completing their training camp. The Mominul Haque selection controversy was a distraction but the BCB president Nazmul Hassan helped paper over those cracks quickly, so all seems in order.
Bangladesh will target nothing less than beating Australia for the first time in Tests. They can only put relentless pressure on this opposition in subcontinent conditions if they can take the game deep. Losing wickets in final sessions or conceding a needless lower-order partnership could cost them. So, Bangladesh will hope to take cues from Australia’s tour to Sri Lanka last year when the hosts mostly won out of the second innings.
Regardless of the nature of the Dhaka and Chittagong pitches – slow, too slow or too flat – both sides cannot risk taking their eyes off each other. Both sides will attack, but the team willing to be patient will have an advantage. For the first time in the history of this contest, there is going to be a fight. Only if the rain stays away.