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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Australia's Big Guns Wrestle Their Way Back

The tide has turned towards Australia ever so slightly after the second day’s play in the 2nd Test in Chittagong, but in the back of everyone’s mind are two major points. Firstly, despite Australia’s excellent batting on Day 2, the chance of a collapse from the remaining all-rounders in the batting line up means that there is still no guarantee that they will be able to negotiate a lead on the first innings. Secondly, the weather forecast continues to look bleak, and Australia will need to act quickly if it is to extricate itself from a first series loss to Bangladesh.

Australia’s bowlers toiled hard in the early warmth, and though another 52 runs was added by the Bangladesh team with those final four wickets, at least it appeared that the wicket wasn’t playing too many tricks giving the batsmen some hope that they could make a stand. Pat Cummins was a warhorse, powering through 22 overs on an unresponsive wicket, and although he didn’t pick up a wicket he was threatening all the time. Steve O’Keefe toiled hard but was obviously under-prepared, with good reason. Agar looked the better of the two, and his two wickets were continued reward for his improving efforts. As it turned out, it was Dave Warner’s direct hit run out of Miraz that hastened the end.

The evolution of Nathan Lyon as Australia’s spinner could well reach its zenith on this tour. Australia has been waiting for Lyon to fulfil his role for years. Not as constant match winner and magician such that Shane Warne was, but to be the leader when the conditions suited the spinners, and to lead by taking wickets. He opened the bowling here on Day One, but wasn’t brought on until the eighth over of the morning on Day Two, and broke through Rahim with his second ball. When the dust had settled, Lyon had figures of 7/94 off 36.2 overs, the second best innings analysis of his career, and he had kept Australia in this Test. Again it was the pace at which he bowled at which impressed. It was much more varied than it has been in the past, and while critics such as myself would still insist that he is bowling too fast in general, the variation he showed here helped to bring forth those wickets. It was impressive stuff from the man who has been knighted as the country’s number one spin option.

That Australia from this point dominated the day’s play is perhaps not remarkable but surprising. It spoke as much about the surface as it did the application of Australia’s premier batsmen. Matt Renshaw was dreadfully unlucky, an inside edge to a glance that nine times out of ten flies wide enough of the keeper to go to the boundary on this occasion was taken magnificently by Mushfiqur to bring about his downfall. Renshaw so far in his short career doesn’t appear to have enjoyed much of the good side of luck. Perhaps his time will come soon.

After lunch though, Australia’s senior batsmen stood tall and played wonderfully. Warner carried on from Mirpir and soon had all of the commentators amazed at his slow scoring pace. The difference was not that he was scoring slowly, but that he was positive with each stroke he played, even if it was only a defensive push. There was no stabbing at the ball, there was no push forward with a hesitant bat. He waited for the discipline of the Bangladesh bowlers to falter and he then played the shot required. He had found his way to play against this bowling in these conditions, and now he was taking full advantage of it. By stumps he had reached 88 not out, and it was a landmark innings that was perhaps even better than his century last week. By contrast the skipper played as he always does, with a flourish. Despite his outlandish style he does make batting look easy when he is on song. He got to 50 with relative ease, so much so that it was a surprise to everyone when he missed a straight ball and was bowled. He would have been kicking himself, because it looked a forgone conclusion that he was going to make Bangladesh pay.

Peter Handscomb, in much the same boat as his fellow Adelaide debutante Renshaw, hasn’t had much luck in his career to date. He has looked comfortable all the way through India and here as well, but each start was followed by a disappointing dismissal. He showed his true grit today, refusing to budge and refusing to be taken down. He waited on the ball as is his habit and he flicked and punched into gaps with ease. As the temperature soared into the 40’s, his health began to crumble, but not his resolve. Through cramps and vomiting he remained, bringing back memories of Dean Jones in India in 1986. Today the Victorian youngster stood firm, and when he made it to stumps on 69 not out it would have been to the applause of his dressing room. His second sub-continent half century may yet become his first sub-continent century.

Australia stands at 2/225, still 80 runs behind the Bangladesh first innings, and with much work to do. Beyond the two men at the crease Australia has no specialist batsmen, only namesake all-rounders who are looking to push their case for the future of the Test careers. Day 3 would be as good a day as any to prove they are worthy of consideration in Australia is to gain a position of strength in their efforts to win the 2nd Test.
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