MELBOURNE (Reuters) - An Australia team that stared down the hardened bureaucrats and faceless money men of the nation’s cricket board to strike a huge win in pay negotiations showed precious little unity when put under pressure by Bangladesh, the ninth-ranked test team.
Steve Smith’s men arrived in Dhaka keen to get back to the cricket after an acrimonious 10-month standoff between the players’ union and Cricket Australia (CA) that reflected badly on both sides of the pay dispute.
Instead, the team’s hopes of quickly restoring some of the good will lost during the boardroom wrangling was swept away in the South Asian dust by an all-too-familiar string of batting collapses as the hosts eked out a famous 20-run triumph.
Australian media paid due credit to Bangladesh for engineering their first test win over the tourists but were scathing of Smith’s team for failing to channel their superior resources into an expected victory.
“And then there are the prima donnas, otherwise known as the Australian test team,” Jon Anderson fumed in Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper.
“I use that term because these are the same players who went on strike over their pay packets, ones that dwarf most professional sportspersons in this country.
“So if you want to play that game, by heck you have to make sure you back it up in the field of play.”
Smith lamented that his team had failed to learn from mistakes made in India, where they won acclaim for their fight even as they were overhauled 2-1 in the tense test series in February and March.
But the tourists seemed more culpable of looking too far ahead rather than focusing on the present in their approach to the much-improved Bangladesh side.
Before the series, Smith justified Ashton Agar’s selection in favour of fellow spinner Steve O’Keefe, who engineered the one victory in India, as taking a long view to beat the top-ranked test side when Australia return there in four years.
Usman Khawaja earned a recall as Smith forecast “a big home summer” for the stylish left-hander against Ashes foes England.
Agar took five wickets but it was a mediocre return on a pitch offering prodigious spin and bounce, while Khawaja managed a total of just two runs in two innings from the combined eight deliveries he faced.
Australia now face the more immediate problem of being 1-0 down in a series and the danger of falling to sixth in the world test rankings if they lose the second match in Chittagong.
David Warner’s defiant second innings century broke his poor run of form on overseas pitches but few else of Smith’s batting team mates can proceed with much confidence.
O’Keefe’s selection in place of injured paceman Josh Hazlewood is a sign Australia are, belatedly, taking their opponents seriously, as Bangladesh match-winner Shakib Al Hasan said they would after Wednesday’s victory.
With their opponents’ pride wounded, Bangladesh can expect a fierce response from the tourists next week.
There is no longer any disgrace in losing to Bangladesh, particularly on their home pitches, but there is some embarrassment when hubris has paved the way to defeat.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by John O'Brien