<
>

Australia 'hurting' after Bangladesh loss - Lehmann

Steven Smith shakes hands with Mushfiqur Rahim Getty Images

When football clubs rebuild, a certain amount of leeway is usually given. There's an acceptance that progress with inexperienced players is punctuated by some nasty spikes along the way. But it's not so simple with the Australian cricket team. They are held to a different standard, and not altogether unreasonably given the resources that underpin elite level performance.

Australia's loss at Dhaka was the first serious blip since the reset button was slammed after they were throttled for 85 by South Africa nine months ago. Since that Hobart debacle, four home Tests were won by them on the spin, a stretch that became five when routing India in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy opener, crushing expectations after nine consecutive Asian losses. Ultimately that series was lost 2-1, but rarely have so many positives been found in baggy green defeat.

But Dhaka was different. India had not lost a Test at home for over four years but Bangladesh are Bangladesh, with nine wins in 100 starts, ever. When that became 10 from 101, whatever the context, the response was always going to be unhinged. It constitutes one of the many varied challenges the side need to overcome in a matter of days before Chittagong.

In the aftermath of the defeat, coach Darren Lehmann cut a sanguine figure issuing his own report card. "We are quite a young side," he began. "We had five under ten Test Matches. So, in terms of a rebuild as such, which we started after the Hobart/South Africa game, it is a young group coming together learning their craft. Bangladesh put the pressure on us and we didn't cope well enough and that happens with a young group."

Age, experience or otherwise, Lehmann acknowledged the performance was underwhelming, the savaging they received for it at home cutting through to the team. "The boys are all hurting with the criticism you get," he said. "(But) you deserve that when you don't win. It is not good enough when you lose a Test match to anyone, but Bangladesh are tough at home."

To that last point, Lehmann agreed that Bangladesh's strength is misunderstood, more in line with any of the combatants in this part of the world they have routinely failed to overcome. "If you look around the world not too many teams are winning away," he said. "We are very good at home and have struggled away. So, we have got to get a side together that can win at home and away, and that's what we are trying to do. (Bangladesh) are very good."

A team for all seasons is something Lehmann craves, similar to the settled line-up he took so long to break into despite thousands of first-class runs. "You are trying to look for that all-round player that can actually adapt in all conditions so you don't have to keep chopping and changing with horses for courses," he explained. "You want to pick a side, a group, that can play together for five to ten years if that is possible and that is what we are trying to do. So, for us, it is a long-term view."

That was the pre-Test rationale as it applied to Usman Khawaja, a batsman unquestionably in the best XI at home, but on the bench in India after a dreadful tour of Sri Lanka. "There was certainly a feeling of that," he said of the decision to recall the number three, who had a terrible time of it. "It is important to have a settled group. For the Ashes, we are pretty clear on where we are going and who want to play in that scenario."

Similarly, before the Test, Steven Smith openly discussed his desire for Bangladesh to provide a platform for the next time they visit India for a red-ball stoush in 2021. Lehmann said it is a "fair call" for that thinking to be given a second thought in light of a 0-1 score-line.

Smith was specifically addressing the decision to leave Steve O'Keefe at home in favour of decade-younger Ashton Agar. Now, the coach is clearly thrilled to see him back in the team hotel. He hinted not-so-subtly at the case for O'Keefe's inclusion, ahead of spare seamer Jackson Bird, after a "pretty easy" decision to rush him over when Josh Hazlewood broke down.

"The way the wicket was," Lehmann said, "you are not going to have too many overs bowled by the quicks as the game goes on and we expect the same sort of pitch." O'Keefe recognised as much himself when addressing reporters. He knows he is here to play, not watch.

Those conditions will be surveyed closely upon arrival as they relate to Khawaja's retention, but also wicketkeeper Matthew Wade's. It is easily forgotten that it wasn't only Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb who came into the side after Hobart - there was a quartet of major batting changes. Nic Maddinson's tenure lasted three Tests, Wade's is now nine. All told, his 15 innings have been worth a sketchy 255 runs at 21, passing 50 just once at number seven.

"When we get there we will take a look at the wicket," Lehmann replied when asked directly whether Wade might be replaced by Handscomb, who kept for Victoria in an earlier life when Wade was on national duty. With such a specialized position and Wade the only full-time stumper on the trip, that's not the sort of query that isn't answered effusively unless there is a distinct possibility of change. Watch this space for that one.

Two others reintegrated back into the side since the last Australian summer are Agar and Pat Cummins, who with David Warner and Nathan Lyon were Australia's best in Dhaka. Alongside Renshaw and Handscomb, it suggests the rebuild is ticking plenty of boxes for the longer term. But that won't count for much if this series can't be salvaged. The future can wait, they now have a Test match to win. Urgently.