Despite an enforced lay-off that has left barely a week for his team to begin and complete preparations ahead of their first Test tour to Bangladesh in more than a decade, coach Darren Lehmann does not believe Australia is at risk of entering the series underdone.
The 14-man squad for the three week Bangladesh campaign, just the second time an Australia Test outfit has set foot in the youngest Test nation, assembled in Darwin yesterday to begin a week-long training camp before flying to Dhaka on August 18.
For many of the players who were rendered uncontracted and unemployed during the protracted pay dispute that was resolved last week, it represents the first time they have returned to a formal cricket environment since Australia was bounced out of the ICC Champions Trophy tournament before the play-off rounds last June.
While many of those players have been voluntarily working with state squads or undertaking individual programs, Test captain Steve Smith acknowledged this week that he had not “picked up a bat in about two months”.
However, Lehmann claimed yesterday that the hiatus from cricket did not represent a concern given the amount of work the squad was due to undertake over the coming week in Darwin, and the sense of mental and physical freshness most had gained over the past month or more.
He is not so naive as to expect that some spirited form in the practice nets or during the centre-wicket trials mapped out among the fitness testing and skills sharpening over the coming week will translate into consummate performances in conditions that historically challenge Australia above all else.
“Until you get there you don’t know,” the Bupa Support Team men’s coach conceded to cricket.com.au when pushed as to whether there was the potential for his team to arrive in Dhaka underdone.
“We’re squeezing enough in this next week, and guys have been doing stuff with their states.
“Even through the MOU (negotiations) they were training and preparing as though they were playing.
“So in terms of fitness, they are probably ahead of the game, they’re really strong and fit which is really pleasing.
“Now it’s just getting their skills up to the required level before we leave.”
While Lehmann’s only direct Test experience of Bangladesh came during Australia’s sole series against them on home soil in 2003 – coincidentally in Darwin and Cairns, where he posted back-to-back centuries – he coached them on their most recent visit there, for the 2014 ICC World T20.
He is also a sufficiently astute student of history to know that it was fatigue rather than form that almost brought Australia undone on their one and only Test visit to Bangladesh in 2006.
When, on the back of a lengthy home summer that was followed immediately by a gruelling tour to South Africa, Ricky Ponting’s exhausted men flew direct from Johannesburg to Dhaka and straight into the first of two Tests days later, where humiliating defeat suddenly became a distinct possibility.
Until Adam Gilchrist posted what he has long assessed as the most important Test century of the 17 he scored for his country.
For that reason, Lehmann is more buoyed than bothered by the sense of novelty that accompanied the group’s return to full intensity training today, and which will continue in conditions specially created by the Northern Territory Cricket Association to mirror those expected in Bangladesh.
“The break’s been good for some of them, they’ve been at the back of a long summer with a lot of travel in the schedule so sometimes a refreshed mindset is really important,” Lehmann said yesterday.
“They’ve all come in really excited to get going again.
“The NTCA have been fantastic, they’ve made wickets very similar to what we’ll get in Bangladesh – they’re low and they’re slow, and they will spin.
“There’s three wicket blocks that are more like Dhaka (which hosts the first Test from August 27-31), three wickets that are a bit like Chittagong (the second from September 4-8), and centre wicket facilities so we can play a match and work on our fielding.
“So in terms of conditions and the heat and humidity that we’ll face when we get there, it’s great preparation especially for those who have come out of winter in the southern states (of Australia).”
Even though Australia’s performance during their four-Test tour to India earlier this year – where they scored a huge win in the first Test but subsequently lost key moments and ultimately the series – was a notable improvement on recent Asian campaigns, the sub-continent remains their greatest challenge.
Since the 2-0 success that Gilchrist and then Jason Gillespie helped to inspire in 2006, Australia have won just two Tests on Asian soil in more than a decade, one of those in Pune earlier this year and the other against Sri Lanka in Galle in 2011.
But Lehmann believes the week of concentrated practice in Darwin coupled with a two-day tour match upon their arrival, in which Australia’s full complement of 14 players can be utilised, should prove sufficient preparation for players who have not faced or held a red ball in a match environment since last March.
Provided the weather, in one of the world’s most flood prone nations where the monsoon season historically runs from July to October, allows them to engage in the final stages of acclimatisation that can’t be replicated in Australia’s top end.
“We’ve got enough sessions in place, and then we’ve got enough time when we get there (to Bangladesh) weather permitting,” Lehmann said.
“I think we’ll be fine, we’ve got a two-day game which is a mixture of players, the wicket will be very similar to what we encounter for the first Test then we’ve got training sessions before that Test starts as well.
“We’re squashing a lot into the eight or nine days before we go to Dhaka, then we just have to see what the weather and the facilities are like when we get there.”