Aus in Ban – Series Preview

At Sophia Gardens on the 18th of June, 2005, Bangladesh created cricket history by scoring one of the biggest upsets in memory, as they chased down 250 against Australia thanks to a Mohammad Ashraful century. Bangladesh showed remarkable maturity as they paced their chase, picked off the part-timers for easy runs and eventually won by five wickets and sparked delirious celebrations at home.

Almost a year later, and Bangladesh meet the best in the world again, this time on their home turf. The chances of a repeat performance may be slim, but the Tigers have impressed many in recent times, winning an ODI against Sri Lanka in a closely fought series, and then thrashing minnow heavyweights Kenya to the tune of 4-0. While perhaps not ready to challenge the might of the Aussies, there is talent aplenty in Bangladesh’s young side, and merely being competitive will be seen as a superb achievement.

On the other side of the equation, Australia are building from strength to strength ahead of their much-hyped Ashes clash at the end of the year. Following the stunning loss to England in mid-2005, Australia have won 9 out of 10 tests and 13 out of 19 ODIs, and with a 5-0 drubbing of South Africa over two series they look to have re-established themselves firmly as the force by which all other teams are measured. The lead-up to the Ashes and some injury concerns have prompted several changes to the team, and from Australia’s point of view the series is a good chance to have a look at some of the players pushing for selection, and continue to build form and momentum before the crucial coming summer.

The Format
Two Tests, three One Day Internationals.

First Test: Dhaka, April 9-13
Second Test: Chittagong, April 16-20
First ODI: Cittagong, April 23
Second ODI: Dhaka, April 26
Third ODI: Dhaka, April 28

The Teams
Test Squad
Ricky Ponting (capt), Adam Gilchrist, Stuart Clark, Michael Clarke, Matthew Hayden, Michael Hussey, Brett Lee, Stuart MacGill, Damien Martyn, Andrew Symonds, Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie, Phil Jaques, Mitchell Johnson

ODI Squad
Ricky Ponting (capt), Adam Gilchrist, Nathan Bracken, Stuart Clark, Michael Clarke, Dan Cullen, Brad Hogg, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Simon Katich, Brett Lee, Damien Martyn, Shane Watson, Andrew Symonds

Habibul Bashar (capt), Khaled Mashud, Javed Omar, Rajin Saleh, Mohammad Ashraful, Shahriar Nafees, Nafees Iqbal, Aftab Ahmed, Alok Kapali, Mohammad Rafique, Mushfiqur Rahum, Manjarul Islam Rana, Mashrafe Mortaza, Enamul Haque Jnr., Tapash Baisya, Abdur Razzak, Syed Rasel, Shahadat Hossein

Who To Watch?
Australia – Jason Gillespie
Gillespie suffered the worst period of his international career a year ago in England, and the first blows of that horrendous tour were struck by Bangladesh, when Mohammad Ashraful struck the Australian seamer for six to seal victory in the opening NatWest Series game. He arrives in Bangladesh to replace the injured Michael Kasprowicz in the Australian team, and with what could be his final chance to prove himself at test level. The door was re-opened for Gillespie when Glenn McGrath pulled out of the tour to South Africa for personal reasons, but Michael Kasprowicz and Stuart Clark were preferred as Glenn’s replacements. As it happened, Clark grabbed the Man of the Series award and sealed his place in the team for the foreseeable future, but Kasprowicz bowled poorly at times and broke down with a back injury, so Jason got his chance. Gillespie comes off a strong Pura Cup season for South Australia, and will require an impressive showing against Bangladesh to keep his name in the hat for the Ashes series.

Bangladesh – Mashrafe Bin Mortaza
Mortaza was the unsung hero of Bangladesh’s triumph over Australia at Sophia Gardens, as it was his opening spell and economical bowling that allowed Bangladesh to restrict Australia to a target they could chase. Mortaza is unquestionably the most talented seamer Bangladesh has produced, and he will be crucial in both forms of the game to Bangaldesh’s chances of being competitive. Mortaza will be relied on to support Mohammad Rafique through the middle overs, and to make inroads with the new ball with his accuracy and swing. Has a solid record of troubling the Australian batsmen, and they are sure to play him cautiously and seek to attack the other bowlers instead.

Australia – Shane Warne
History’s leading wicket-taker has played surprisingly few tests across his lengthy career against the minnow nations of world cricket. Warne met Zimbabwe once in 1999, and has never faced Bangladesh in a test match, having missed the inaugural series in 2003 due to a drug ban. Much has been made of his main rival Muttiah Muralitharan’s stunning success against the world’s two weakest teams, and Warne gets his chance in this series to emulate it. With the pitches in Bangladesh likely to turn, Warne will be the most likely candidate to take a significant haul of wickets, despite Australia’s five-bowler policy that is designed to reduce his workload.

Bangladesh – Mohammad Ashraful
Debate may rage about his approach to the game as a whole, but there is little doubt that Ashraful is Bangladesh’s most dangerous batsman, on his day. While he lacks the measured, mature approach of a Shahriar Nafees, Ashraful can tear an attack apart with his aggressive strokeplay, and it is certain that he will seek to repeat the performance that carried Bangladesh home at Sophia Gardens. He is likely to be more dangerous in the one dayers, but in the test form he rarely gives up on his natural approach, and a rapid-fire innings of significance is never too far away.

In the end, it may be seen that the test series is simply a prelude to the one dayers, where Bangladesh are much more likely to be competitive, but the home crowds and the lovers of the underdog all over the world will be cheering on the home side in both forms. Australia for their part will take the series in a serious manner following their past embarassment, and Ricky Ponting has indicated as much with a humble retraction of his claim that Bangladesh were not good enough for test cricket. The word all about the Australian camp is wariness, while Bangladesh are also playing a respectful tune in the media, but secretly much of the cricket world will be hoping that Australia slip up again, or that Bangladesh manage something magical, if only so they can watch the locals celebrate.

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