Manchester, UK (BBN)-When Australia toured Bangladesh for the first time almost a decade it was as top dog versus underdog.
Come next month, the contest instead shapes as much closer to being a clash of equals than it could have been at any time since that encounter, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.
The World Cup wash-out at the Gabba earlier this year prevented Australia – and Australians – getting a first-hand look at how the teams match up.
But even if Brisbane had been dry for what should have been Australia’s second match of the tournament the relevance would have been limited, given that Michael Clarke, Shane Watson and David Warner are among the players who would have played then who will be missing for the looming Tests – never to return, in the case of Clarke and Watson.
Bangladesh won plenty of admirers for the way in which they reached the World Cup quarter-finals.
They have made even bigger strides since then in one-day cricket, winning home series against Pakistan, India and, most recently, South Africa.
Those wins were among cricket-mad Bangladesh’s biggest milestones with the white ball. Their next step is replicating that with the red ball.
When Australia visited in April 2006 the hosts had won only one and drawn two of their 19 home Tests, all of them against Zimbabwe.
Their losses in those early years were hefty. Of the 16 defeats, nine were by an innings, with the closest margin being seven wickets or 226 runs.
Almost a decade later Zimbabwe is still the only team Bangladesh have beaten in Tests at home – they have done it three times – but have much improved their ratio of draws.
They have drawn a third of the 30 home Tests they have played since that Australia series, including two against each of South Africa, India and New Zealand, as well as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and West Indies.
Rain has played a part in some of those results – their most recent series, against South Africa in July, included six of the 10 scheduled days being washed out – but is far from the only reason for it.
Of their five home Tests this year four have ended in draws.
Bangladesh’s line-up for their most recent Test featured five batsmen averaging more than 35 at home, topped by No.3 Monimul Haque’s 66.24 from 12 Tests.
During the World Cup, the greatest impact with the bat was made by Mahmudullah, who made two centuries, while captain Mushfiqur Rahim averaged 49.67.
Long-serving opener Tamim Iqbal has often failed to live up to expectations, but a Test double-century at home against Pakistan earlier this year showed why he is well regarded.
With the ball, seamers Taskin Ahmed and Rubel Hossain impressed at the World Cup, while in the recent Tests against South Africa 20-year-old paceman Mustafizur Rahman claimed the wickets of Hashim Amla, J.P. Duminy and Quinton de Kock in the space of four deliveries as part of a four-wicket haul on debut.
When Australia toured Zimbabwe in 2006 their 14-man squad had played a combined total of 672 Tests.
Even then it did not guarantee a one-sided contest against a team five-and-a-half years into approval for competition in Tests.
In the first of two Tests the visitors had to overcome a first-innings deficit of 158 and only won by three wickets, and in the second they were boosted by Jason Gillespie’s unlikely double-century.
This time around, Australia’s combined Test appearance tally will be much less than half of that.
Furthermore, Bangladesh’s tally of at least three players with at least 40 Tests behind them – Mushfiqur, Tamim and star all-round Shakib Al Hasan – will at least match what Australia will have in their squad, if not exceed it.
Even though the 2014 World Twenty20 was held in Bangladesh the scant crossover between that squad and the current Test contenders means the vast majority of the squad will be unfamiliar with Bangladeshi conditions.
As tempting as it would be to shift attention straight to the Tests against New Zealand to start the home summer, given the four-year gap between series between the teams, Australia’s experience in the United Arab Emirates against Pakistan about a year ago was a reminder of how dramatically Australia can come back to the field when playing in unfavoured conditions.
When combined with what be a vastly revamped squad, it will give Bangladesh hope of sealing their biggest achievement since their entry to international cricket.