David Vs Goliath : Preview of Bangladesh in Australia, 2008.
The Old Testament recounts the story of David and Goliath. During a battle between the Israelites and the Philistines, Goliath, champion of the Philistines would come out between the battle lines twice a day for forty days and challenge the Israelites to send a champion of their own to face him in single combat. David bravely volunteers, declaring himself unafraid of the great Goliath. He rejects the armour offered to him in favour of a sling and five stones. The rest, as they say, is history.
Ignoring the gory end of the biblical tale, there is a certain symmetry with the Australia v Bangladesh ODI series. Bangladesh tour Australia for closer to four weeks than forty days, and rather than single combat the series will comprise three one-day internationals. Nonetheless, victory for the Bangladeshis against the reigning world champions will take a monumental effort. Despite the absence of Ricky Ponting, Brett Lee and now Matthew Hayden, Australia have a stellar batting lineâ€“up capable of doing some serious damage to Bangladeshâ€™s fragile bowlers.
Lest we forget the hype, next year is an Ashes year. Those whose memories stretch back to those heady days of 2005 will recall that Bangladesh beat Australia in Cardiff in the lead up to Michael Vaughanâ€™s men reclaiming the sacred urn. Bangladesh fans will be hoping that the fates will once again be smiling fondly on their team.
Michael Clarke has an enviable record as stand-in captain and he will be eager to prove his credential in his first full series assignment. As is now customary in matches against Bangladesh, the Australia captain is unwilling, at least publicly, to take Bangladesh too lightly, warning against complacency.
There are a few new faces in the Australia squad, including uncapped fast bowler Brett Geeves. Geeves participated in the Indian Premier League as part of the Delhi Daredevils. A gifted swing bowler and handy lower order batsman, Geeves will be keen to impress on debut.
Bangladesh will be taking inspirations from their Cardiff heroics
For Bangladesh, the pressure never seems to end. They are still without a win against a major side since their glorius victories in the 2007 World Cup. Their Australian coach Jamie Siddons has recently been the target of some veiled criticism from the chief selector Rafiqul Alam. Fans and selectors alike are losing patience with the pace of change under Siddons. Bangladesh will hope Siddonsâ€™ local knowledge will prove useful in this series and some good performances against the Aussies will be a fine way for Siddons to answer his critics.
Bangladesh have also made a number of changes to their squad. The initial squad had included opener Shahriar Nafees, who withdrew from the squad to concentrate on his studies. Nazimuddin, whose batting has so far flattered to deceive, was picked instead. He also picked up a nasty injury early in the tour and Zunaed Siddique was called up as a late replacement.
The rehabilitation of promising Siddique continues. He was the skipper of the â€˜Aâ€™ team which recently toured England, but failed to make a significant contribution with the bat. He will vie for the openerâ€™s spot with young dasher Mehrab Hossain Junior. The management remains uncertain as to what the ideal opening combination should be, they recently experimented with Mahmudullah Riyad, who is known more for his offbreaks than for his straight bat, at the top of the order.
Wicket keeper Dhiman Ghosh has similarly benefited from a quirk of fate. Mushfiqur Rahim had initially been pencilled in to take the gloves, but he too picked up an injury late in the day leading to a recall for Ghosh. Ghosh impressed on the â€˜Aâ€™ team tour of England and will be eager to make up for a forgettable debut against South Africa earlier this year.
Bangladesh captain Mohammed Ashraful would have hoped his well-paced century against the United Arab Emirates in the Asia Cup would signal an upturn in his fortunes. However, like previous occasions, he failed to kick on and Bangladeshâ€™s most talented batsman continues to struggle for form.
Bangladesh welcome back talented all-rounder Shakib Al-Hasan following an enforced hiatus. His accurate slow left arm bowling and diligent batting was sorely missed in the Asia Cup and Kitply Cup. Aftab Ahmed is still curiously missing from the squad, but the redoubtable Roqibul Hasan and the resurgent Alok Kapali are expected to make up the middle order.
Although batting has always been Bangladeshâ€™s main weakness, the bowling too is not without its problems. Vice-captain Mashrafe bin Mortaza and Shahadat Hossain are expected to share the new ball. Shahadat has been known to be expensive in the past, but he is slowly shaping up to be a useful one-day bowler. Mortaza, when he chooses to come to the party, can bowl as well as anyone; Bangladesh supporters can only hope that the prospect of facing the mighty Australians is enough to motivate the teamâ€™s bowling linchpin. The team management are not expecting spin to be a major factor in this series and so have reinforced the fast bowling reserves. Skiddy medium pacer Nazmul Hossain, bowling all-rounder Dolar Mahmud and batting all-rounder Farhad Reza all add depth to the squad.
The spin duties will fall upon Abdur Razzak, Shakib Al-Hasan and Alok Kapali. Mahmudullah Riyad, Mehrab Hossain Junior and captain Ashraful also offer reasonable spinning option should the need arise. On paper, Bangladesh are well-equipped with spinners.
If slings and arrows are all it took for David to beat Goliath, Bangladesh will need significantly more to overcome the Australian juggernaut. Since Siddons took charge, Bangladesh have played ODIs against New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka and failed to beat any of them. More recently, Bangladeshâ€™s four warm up games to date have resulted in one win and three losses. Although in transition, Australia remain a cut above the rest. Bangladesh supporters may well hope to relive that summerâ€™s day in Cardiff, but based on recent performances, a repeat looks increasingly unlikely.
Players to watch
Bangladesh â€“ Alok Kapali: Kapali made his name as a precocious legspinner when Bangladesh first gained tests status. Since then his bating has developed faster than his bowling. After three years in the wilderness, Kapali returned to the side earlier in the year and capped things off with a fine hundred against India in the Asia Cup. Expect some fireworks from Bangladeshâ€™s Sylheti sensation.
Australia â€“ Shane Watson: With an abundance of talent, itâ€™s difficult to pick one Australian player to stand out. Watson however, is as good a choice as any. The closest thing to an Australian Andrew Flintoff, Watson scored a massive hundred opening the innings against the West Indies earlier this year. Watson will be looking to fill his boots again.