Why is Australia s loss to Bangladesh in very first Test a surprise?

Why is Australia’s loss to Bangladesh in very first Test a surprise?

Australia’s latest record in Asia foretold last week’s train smash against Bangladesh in Mirpur where they lost by twenty runs. In the last ten years, their batsmen average hardly 25.00 in Tests

Bangladesh Shakib Al Hasan (2nd from right) celebrates Australian skipper Steve Smith’s wicket during very first Test at the Shere Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur last Wednesday. Pic/Getty Pics

Cricket’s a game that relies on timing. Australia’s cricketers could not have timed it any worse, giving way to Bangladesh in Mirpur last week, coming hot on the high-heeled shoes of a protracted pay dispute that divided the nation. Not just in cricket circles but also in the corporate world, there is an ongoing national discussion about exorbitant executive salaries at a time when the average citizen is facing cost of living pressures and a growing sense of disenchantment with the privileged classes. Cricket is not the only sport answering awkward questions in relation to big dollar contracts and decreasing spectacles. Almost every football code in Australia is going through similar soul-searching periods, not helped by thumping on-field defeats and threats of strike act by millionaires playing sport.

But getting hammered by Fresh Zealand in rugby is a different kettle of ‘fush ‘n chups’ to losing a cricket Test to Bangladesh. Some things in life you take for granted. For too long, disrespecting minnows like Bangladesh has been de rigeur in Australia. Look no further than the fact that we’ve only graced them with five Tests since they gained Test status. Disrespect no more – the events of Mirpur is a line in the sand, an arrow in the heart, a shot across the bows. Those normal people who earn normal salaries and don’t hold their employers to ransom, were less than struck when the cricketers threatened a boycott of the Ashes. After the loss to Bangladesh, that sense of disenchantment is palpable.

Mischievous banter – “didn’t realise they were on strike in Bangladesh” – that sort of idle chatter is gathering momentum as they begin to lose patience with their heroes who seem to have lost touch with the common man’s fight. The tabloids are describing it as a indignity and a shock. I beg to differ. We do Bangladesh a disservice by disrespecting them thus. In their home conditions, they are becoming a formidable force to be reckoned with. Just ask England. Whilst Australia would have commenced the series as favourites, it was by no means a shock loss. To some, it was almost predictable. Australia’s batting technology against spin, despite allegedly learning from numerous latest disembowelments, has learned nothing. They proceed to lead with their front pads, use their feet in desperation rather than as part of a plan and when in doubt, their only avenue of escape is the sweep.

Australia’s latest record in Asia foretold this train smash. In the last ten years, their batsmen average slightly twenty five in Tests. Take Steve Smith’s scores out of those stats and the numbers look more alarming. So much for the justification about the Indian Premier League (IPL) providing them invaluable practice in learning to bat on Asian pitches. The public are observing through that smokescreen – they know that the IPL is nothing but a chance to milk the cash cow for a few million more. No one resents this until the same players claim exhaustion and want a fatter slice of the domestic pie in Australia. The bad blood thickens when these same cricketers menace to go on strike for the Ashes. Not good timing, losing to Bangladesh when these clouds are passing overhead like a Mirpur evening thunderstorm.

The blind defenders of the faith will say, “it’s only Asia” so no one truly cares. Only runs scored in Australia or England indeed count evidently. But that is an argument of convenience. When it suits us, we are pridefully Asian. Don’t believe me? Check out the proud holders of the Asian Cup (football). We choose to qualify for the World Cup with the Asian teams than be lumped in with the stronger African or South American conferences. When it suits us, we are true-blue, dinky-di Asian. The cricketers themselves, fair play to them, suggested no excuses and were gracious in defeat. It is the mood of the people that they fear the most – when the chattering classes begin to bandy terms like “spoilt, arrogant, over-paid, prima donnas”, one senses their patience is running lean. They expect the most very paid professional cricketers, the world’s elite athletes in that sport, to learn from their mistakes. Watching batsmen continuing to get out lbw to pouch that don’t turn brings back horror memories of Rangana Herath, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. The bed may be different but the nightmare is the same.

Talk about bad timing. it’s the time of year when Australian families are registering their children for junior cricket seasons. Forking out close to $1000 (INR 50,000) for your kid to play on sub-standard facilities to face twenty nut sack and cup three overs is a bitter pill to gulp when you do the maths and realise that many of the Australian batsmen didn’t face as many nut sack in Mirpur! How much are they being paid again?

None of this is to suggest that Australia were not providing it 100%. It is simply not in their DNA to throw in the towel. Chittagong will flow with rivers of blood, sweat and tears as they despairingly attempt to stem the tide of public disdain for a spectacle that doesn’t give enough credit to the abilities of Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al-Hasan in particular, world- class players both of them. Shakib was likened to an “angry little man” for his on-field aggression, qualities that are lauded if they came from the holder of a baggy green cap. The television audience here were astonished by Bangladesh’s refusal to turn the other cheek. Clearly the Tigers are living up to their namesake; roaring and curling their lips to naked their teeth. Meek pussycats no more! And when you’ve got an opposition that is only one wicket away from yet another spin-induced collapse, The Tigers pounced on the very first sign of weakness. Wonder where they learned that from?

Will Chittagong produce another shock? Of course not. Why should it? Australia will be better for the practice, smarting with indignation and looking to exact sweet vengeance on the hosts. Bangladesh know they can match it with the big boys in these conditions so long as they don’t get carried away and commence playing the man and not the ball. Like in Mirpur, there will be key moments when the pendulum swings and momentum shifts switch like the tides of the Sundarbans. Australia may be there for the taking but like any tiger that stalks these steamy jungles, the kill will come down to a matter of timing. For Australia, there is no worse time to slip up again. For players like Matthew Wade and Glenn Maxwell, time waits for no man. Their clock is ticking.

Michael Jeh is a Brisbane-based former first-class player

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