FORGET THE upcoming Ashes for a moment – both Australia and England have suffered humiliating defeats by long-shot outsiders in quick succession. Chief writer RON REED found some reasons to enjoy watching it:
TEST CRICKET hasn’t enjoyed too many better weeks in recent memory than the one that has just seen the West Indies complete a scarcely believable fightback against England and the ninth-ranked Bangladesh pull off its maiden win over Australia, only about half a day apart. Here’s a confession: as the latter match went to the wire, I found myself barracking for the Bangladeshis — or perhaps it was just that I wanted to see the creation of some significant history, something that’s never happened before. I’m always a sucker for that and it goes double when it involves a rank underdog having its day against a superpower. It’s better still when the outcome is a nail-biter, as this certainly was with the pendulum swinging throughout Australia’s second innings before they fell just 20 short.
Let’s face it, this was a disaster for the baggy greens. They were under pressure on at least two fronts before the match even began. One was their dismal record in Asia, where they have won only two Tests in the last 10 years – losing to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India in their last three attempts. The other is the need to get back on-side with those sports fans – and there were plenty of them – who were put off-side by the great pay war that dominated the off-season. “Australia’s cricketers should have stayed on strike. Their performance against Bangladesh has been nothing sort of pathetic,” and “Good to see the Aussie cricket team earning their big pay rises,” were among the predictable responses in the Herald Sun’s letters page – and that was before what turned out to be the final day’s play. They won’t be the last ones now that an ignominious entry has been inked into the record books. And the embarrassment may be far from over yet. If they lose again in Chittagong next week, they will sink to sixth on the Test rankings, an all-time low.
To add to the gloom, experienced pace bowler Josh Hazlewood broke down and won’t be available for the one and only chance the Australians will have to hit back. Although the spare quick in the party, Jackson Bird, will take his place, Hazlewood has been replaced in the party by discarded spinner Steve O’Keefe, a controversial selection on two fronts – one, he was recently heavily fined for drunken anti-social behaviour and was believed to have had his cards unofficially marked, and two, Victorian Jon Holland is believed by many to be at least his equal and has done nothing wrong.
Only two of the Australians enhanced their reputations. David Warner’s second innings century was a masterpiece, in difficult conditions, which went a long way to proving that his dismal record in Asia may be an aberration – although the way he got out when the run-chase was still a long way from over was not a good look. And off-spinner Nathan Lyon’s nine-wicket haul took him past Richie Benaud into second place on the list of Australia’s most successful spinners behind Shane Warne. But there were at least three players who are entitled to be red-faced by their non-contributions – batsman Usman Khawaja donated his wicket twice, as did all-rounder Glenn Maxwell, whose maiden century in India recently has not eliminated suspicions that he is simply not equipped to carve out a decent Test career. Wicketkeeper Matthew Wade had a shocker with the bat too and cannot be any certainty for the Ashes.
For Bangladesh, who have now won matches against England, Sri Lanka and Australia for the first time in the space of the past year, the star was Shakib Al Hasan, who celebrated his 50th Test by top-scoring with 84 in the first innings and took five wickets in each Australian innings. An obscure stat is worth noting – it is the second time he has contributed a half century and two five-fors and the only other player ever to do that more often is legendary New Zealander Richard Hadlee, which puts him in rare company. Because Australia plays Bangladesh so seldom – this was only the fifth Test and the first for 11 years – many Australian fans wouldn’t be familiar with Shakib’s status as the most successful all-rounder in the world. But sportshounds.com.au readers would be because our resident cricket expert, former Test fast bowler Ian Callen, told you so a couple of weeks ago. Batsman Tamil Iqbal, also playing his 50th match, got 71 and 78 to share the glory.
Not that this learned website gets everything spot on – some fool with the initials RR pontificated here a week ago that the Poms were dining out on possibly one of the worst teams in history after they demolished the West Indies by an innings and 209 in the first Test at Birmingham. There was plenty of statistical evidence to back that up and we were far from the only ones to run with that. And even though Jason Holder’s young team – they are all under 30 – hit back hard on the first couple of days, no-one gave them any real hope of chasing down 322 on the fifth, an “ask” that almost always proves impossible. With little-known batsman Shai Hope contributing twin centuries, they did so comfortably – a run-chase bettered at the Headingley ground only by Don Bradman’s Invincibles in 1948. It was the Windies’ first Test win in England since 2000, an incredible stat given their historical dominance.
In England, the media have hailed it as one of the all-time great Test matches. In Bangladesh, the same sentiment is sure to prevail.
Author: Ron Reed
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.