Dhaka: Winning a Test series in India is on Steve Smith’s “bucket list” and the Australian captain views the series against Bangladesh as a stepping stone towards crossing off that item.
There were no surprises as Smith revealed Australia’s XI for the first Test which begins on Sunday at Dhaka’s Shere Bangla National Stadium, with backup paceman Jackson Bird, West Australian Hilton Cartwright and uncapped leg spinner Mitchell Swepson the three players in the Australian squad to miss out. That means that Ashton Agar – a shock teenage selection at the start of the 2013 Ashes series in England – will add to his two Tests from more than four years ago, while Usman Khawaja, dropped before the first Test in India earlier this year, returns to bat at No.3, and Glenn Maxwell holds his spot at No.6.
While Agar’s spellbinding debut knock of 98 from No.11 earned him a place in Ashes lore, he was dropped after the second Test of that 2103 series after taking just two wickets at the unflattering average of 124. But after a promising Sheffield Shield season last summer in which he took 16 wickets in four matches, and having been part of the squad that lost the Border-Gavaskar this year, the left-arm spinner is back to ply his trade on what Smith described as a “pretty dry” wicket.
Speaking before the match, Smith reiterated that Agar had been given the nod ahead of fellow left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe in part with an eye to Australia’s next Test tour of India. O’Keefe, who turns 33 later this year, was dumped for this series despite taking 19 wickets in the four-match series played in February and March, with Smith suggesting that the selectors had to think ahead.
“He was disappointed,” Smith said of O’Keefe’s reaction to being left out of the squad.
“But for us it’s more looking to the future. Ashton has obviously been on the radar for a long time and someone we see as having a pretty bright future. Four years’ time back in India it’s something I want to achieve whilst I’m captain. I want to win in India, that’s big on my bucket list.
“SOK probably is getting on at that point in time and we need to get someone else through and we saw this as an opportunity to give Ashton another opportunity and hopefully he takes it with both hands.
“I think he’s come a long way over the last year particularly. He’s been bowling very well in the nets. His lengths have been exceptional so if he can get those right in the game I’m sure he’ll have a big impact for us.”
It is in the same vein that Khawaja has been recalled to replace Shaun Marsh, with the former looking to improve a poor Test record in Asia.
Smith said he was hopeful Agar, along with off-spinner Nathan Lyon and quicks Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins could do enough damage so that the captain, and fellow part-timer Maxwell, won’t be needed to bowl much, if at all.
“You’ve got two quality spinners and they’re there to do a job,” Smith said.
“Sometimes there’s a part-timer that can come on to try and break a partnership but your two spinners have got to do the bulk of the bowling and get the job done.”
Smith was also asked about the composition of his attack for the upcoming Ashes series, and would not rule out the possibility that Australia could employ a five-man bowling attack featuring Hazlewood, Cummins, Lyon, as well as James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc, both of whom have missed the Bangladesh tour due to injury.
“I guess it’s nice that all the fast bowlers – probably take Josh out of it – Starc, Cummins and Pattinson all bat pretty well.
“So I won’t say that we’ll do it but there’s a possibility that it could certainly happen. That you could play all four and Nathan Lyon.
“[It] probably leaves the batting a little bit light, but those guys do hold the bat pretty well. So it’s something to certainly think about. Hopefully someone nails down the No.6 spot and we don’t have to worry about that.”
The Australians employed a “no whingeing policy” in India, and Smith said it was still in place, with the tourists aiming to get on with the job despite the challenges that can come with playing in the subcontinent.
One of those challenges is the monsoonal weather, with rain forecast in Dhaka for all five days of the match. Despite that, Australia are still favoured to win the match with bookmakers, The clash is the first time Australia have played a Test against the ninth-ranked Tigers since 2006. Smith said his team couldn’t afford to take Bangladesh lightly, especially given their series draw against England last year.
David Warner, Matt Renshaw, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (captain), Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Wade, Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon
We’re trying to win back fans: Smith
Steve Smith says Australia’s cricketers are trying to win back fans who became disillusioned with the game during the recent pay dispute.
The first Test against Bangladesh – which begins on Sunday in Dhaka – marks Australia’s first competitive match since the Australian Cricketers Association and Cricket Australia reached a resolution following a 10-month process to sign a new memorandum of understanding. The at-times bitter negotiations led to the cancellation of an Australia A tour of South Africa and placed both the Bangladesh series and this summer’s Ashes in doubt.
However with the divisive situation behind them, Smith said those series could help heal the game. “I think so. And I’d say it probably extends even to the summer. And playing well in the Ashes. It’s going to be really important for us as a group,” Smith said.
“The pay dispute went on longer than we all would have liked, but thankfully it’s all dealt with now and we can move on with playing and I guess trying to win back a few fans that we perhaps may have lost along the way. And I think we’ll do that by playing good, hard fought cricket and winning games of cricket more importantly, so it’s a good challenge for this group.”