Numbers Game

The spin test resumes for Australia

Australia's recent record in Asia is poor, while Bangladesh's fortunes have been on the rise recently. The two-Test series could well be a tight contest

S Rajesh
S Rajesh
Australia's win-loss record in Asia is the worst among the top overseas teams in the last ten years, August 22, 2017

Australia's win-loss record in Asia is the worst among the top overseas teams in the last ten years  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Australia have never lost a Test match to Bangladesh; they haven't even drawn one. In four Tests, they have won three by an innings, and another by three wickets. However, the last of those Tests was in April 2006, more than 11 years ago. Given that Bangladesh have made giant strides over the last couple of years in all forms of cricket, and given Australia's general discomfort in Asian conditions, it's quite likely that Australia will have another tough series in Asia over the next couple of weeks.
Almost a year ago, England were in exactly the same position as Australia are now. When they toured Bangladesh to play two Tests in 2016, they came into the series with a perfect 8-0 record against Bangladesh. All that counted for nothing, though, when the series began: England scraped through in the first Test, by 22 runs, and then were drubbed by 108 runs in the second. If Australia aren't at their best, a similar fate could be in store for them as well.
Like it is for any overseas team touring Asia, the key for Australia will be how well they bat against spin. When England toured Bangladesh last year, the home team's spinners took 38 wickets at an average of 19.92, while the quicker bowlers together took a solitary wicket at an average of 124. Spinners bowled 90% of Bangladesh's total overs in the series.
In the four-Test series between Australia and India earlier this year, India's spinners were dominant too, though not quite to the extent that Bangladesh's were against England: in four Tests, India's spinners took 52 wickets at 24.13, while on Australia's previous tour to India - in 2013 - they took 65 wickets at 22.24. In these two series, India's pace attack took a joint total of 35 wickets at 33.69. Put these two facts together and it's obvious that Bangladesh will fancy their chances of spinning Australia's top order out in conditions that should again be favourable for spin.
Indian bowlers in last two home series v Australia
Type Overs Wkts Ave SR
 Spin  1100.2  117  23.08  56.4
 Pace  387.3  35  33.68  66.4
The numbers below will further encourage Bangladesh. Apart from Steven Smith, none of the other batsmen in Australia's current squad averages more than 31 in Asia. Smith was outstanding earlier this year in India too, scoring 499 runs at an average of 71.28, while none of his team-mates managed half as many runs - the next highest was Matt Renshaw's 232. Against India's spinners Smith scored 299 runs and was dismissed five times, for an average of 59.80, though his overall average against spin in Asia is slightly lower, at 44.16.
The other batsman who impressed against spin was Renshaw, who scored 149 runs off the spinners at an average of 49.66 per dismissal. (He wasn't so good against pace, though, scoring 83 runs with five dismissals, at an average of 16.60.) The rest struggled against spin, and perhaps the most disappointing of the lot was David Warner.
In home conditions Warner is astonishingly consistent and dominant, and has averaged 59.21 with 14 hundreds in 33 Tests, but in Asia, his average drops to almost half his home numbers: 30.38. Against spinners in Asia, he averages 28.15, but in the 2017 series in India, he struggled to come to terms with R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja: he was dismissed by India's spinners six times in 202 balls, averaging 19.16 runs per dismissal. In fact, among the overseas batsmen who have batted 20 or more times in Asia since the start of 2000, only five top-order batsmen have poorer averages.
One big difference between the way Smith and Warner played in India was the number of times they used their feet against spin. Smith stepped out 63 times, scored 47 runs off those balls, and was dismissed once; Warner stepped out only 11 times, and scored 12 runs, including a six and a four.
Aus batsmen stepping out v India's spinners in the 2017 series
Batsman Runs Balls Dis Ave
 SPD Smith  47  63  1  47.00
 PSP Handscomb  57  58  2  28.50
 SE Marsh  35  44  0  -
 MT Renshaw  50  37  2  25.00
 MS Wade  29  19  0  -
 DA Warner  12  11  0  -
When Smith stepped out, the intent wasn't necessarily to hit big shots: he hit only four fours off the 63 balls, but played out 32 dots and took 23 singles. That suggests an ability to be flexible in intent when stepping out, instead of stepping out with premeditated ideas. Smith played out 649 balls from India's spinners in the series, which means he stepped out around 10% of the time; among the batsmen in the current squad, the player who stepped out more often was Peter Handscomb, who scored only 198 in eight innings in the series but played some crucial knocks, especially in the Ranchi Test. He stepped out 58 times to the 360 balls he faced from the spinners, though he also got out twice in the process. Expect both Smith and Handscomb to employ similar methods to tackle Bangladesh's spinners over the next couple of weeks.

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. @rajeshstats