Young Australia unveiled

AUSSIE SMILES ABOUND after the conquest of Bangladesh.-AP

The Australian selectors are clearly looking at the future. And a soft series, like the one against Bangladesh, presented them with a wonderful opportunity to have a glimpse of the cricketers tipped to be future stars.

Perhaps the foremost gain for Australia from the campaign in Bangladesh was that several of its younger cricketers received a valuable feel of international competition. They will be better off for the experience in the demanding days ahead.

After coming though a testing first Test — tired by a gruelling schedule Australia sleep-walked through the first half of the match — it was predictable that the side would sweep the rest of the matches, including the three-game ODI series.

The Australian selectors are clearly looking at the future. And a soft series, like the one against Bangladesh, presents them with a wonderful opportunity to have a glimpse of the cricketers tipped to be future stars. Youngsters such as Dan Cullen — he played in the Test series as well — Mitchell Johnson, Brett Dorey and James Hopes displayed their wares in the ODI series.

Off-spinner Cullen is seen by many as potentially the next significant Australian spin bowler. He has a fluent action, spins the ball and achieves bounce. Captain Ricky Ponting said: "Dan bowled beautifully... he had to work really hard in the one-dayers to get his first wicket and didn't get it until his second spell in the third ODI. But he's going to be good bowler for Australia for a long time to come. There's no doubt."

Left-arm paceman Johnson, who has this reputation of being furiously fast, was, not too long ago, called by pace legend Dennis Lillee as "once in a generation bowler." Johnson had played an ODI each in New Zealand and South Africa before he received a look-in on the slower wickets of Bangladesh, which will be useful in his learning curve.

He struck with the new ball in the third game at Fatullah putting a smile on his skipper's face. "It was good for him to have a chance to bowl with the new ball. He got a few wickets. We have always identified him as being a good prospect for Australia. I think we are just starting to see some of his ability now." The fact that Johnson bowled in packed stadiums would have enhanced his growth as a cricketer, said vice-captain Adam Gilchrist. "The chance to play in front of, while it is not 50,000 or 60,000, it is still a pretty noisy crowd, is one part he will really benefit from."

For Dorey, a fast-medium bowler from Queensland, and Hopes, a pace-bowling all-rounder from South Australia, the experience in Bangladesh, irrespective of the quality of the opposition, should serve them well.

There has been considerable debate about the depth in Australia's pace resources with key man Glenn McGrath not getting any younger. Brett Lee is a formidable bowler, and Stuart Clark is developing into a paceman of seam movement and bounce who can hurt, but Australia has been seeking a second line of pacemen who can keep alive the legacy.

There are huge expectations from Johnson, who would also add variety to the attack as a left-armer. His natural pace should give him an edge over the likes of Nathan Bracken, if Johnson can work on his control.

The advent of Cullen has also put pressure on the side's first ODI spinner Brad Hogg. The left-arm Chinaman bowler is relishing the competition. "They took two spinners to the last World Cup and I can't see why they won't do it this time. It looks like it is going to be between Dan or myself or either one of us. But we have to keep performing to keep our spots. It is good that Dan has got a crack." Hogg was the leading wicket-taker in both the sides with 9 scalps at 9.77.

The seniors in the side performed too. Andrew Symonds made a 125-ball 103 in the second ODI. Gilchirst swung a tight first game Australia's way with a typically aggressive 76 off just 46 deliveries.

It was in the same match, which Australia eventually won by four wickets, that Michael Hussey once again performed the finisher's role with an unbeaten 36. The left-hander seems to have stepped into Michael Bevan's shoes in the abbreviated form of the game.

"Finishing the innings is a very important role. I see myself as the best player to do that particular role at the moment. I think we've got a lot of other guys up the order... in the power plays, who can hit over the field or through the field."

Bangladesh, like in the Test series, put up a fight in the first match. Faruque Ahmed, former cricketer and now a selector, admitted, "We have a long way to go in establishing ourselves as a competitive side. But there was evidence in the series that we are gradually improving and are settling down, at least a little bit, as a team. The way we tried to defend a small total in the first match is a clear indication of an improving side."

The selectors and the team-management are not shying away from taking tough decisions. Even if that meant leaving out the free-stroking and precociously talented Mohammad Ashraful from the second game. Said coach Dav Whatmore, "He is a little bit out of form and his confidence is down. We felt he should have a break."

This, in itself, is a welcome departure from the past when several Bangladesh cricketers were given a seemingly never-ending run despite non-performance.

Skipper Habibul Bashar was solid, making 155 runs in the three games. Armed with a sound technique, he continues to be Bangladesh's most reliable batsman. Bashar scored 70 in the second ODI. The next highest individual contribution by a Bangladesh batsman in the series was Rajin Saleh's 37.

On the positive side, Bangladesh fielded a reasonable new ball combination in Shahadat Hossain and Mashrafe Mortaza. Hossain, in particular, is fluent in his methods and generates lively speed.

Experienced left-arm spinner Mohammad Rafique returned an impressive economy rate of 3.11, while another cricketer from his tribe, Abdur Razzaq, picked up five wickets in the series. But then, the bowlers were let down by the lack of runs from the batsmen. The signs, however, are that Bangladesh is an improving side.

THE SCORES 3rd ODI, Fatullah, April 28, 2006.

Bangladesh 124 in 42.3 overs (R. Saleh 37, Bashar 33, Hogg three for 17) lost to Australia 127 for one in 22.4 overs (M. Cosgrove 74, Katich 42 not out).

2nd ODI, Fatullah, April 26, 2006.

Australia 250 for five in 50 overs (Gilchrist 32, S. Katich 26, M. Clarke 54, A. Symonds 103 not out, M. Mortaza three for 54) beat Bangladesh 183 in 48 overs (J. Omar 34, Bashar 70, Mashud 36, Hogg three for 34).

1st ODI, Chittagong, April 23, 2006.

Bangladesh 195 in 47 overs (A. Ahmed 30, H. Bashar 52, K. Mashud 27, B. Hogg three for 37) lost to Australia 196 for six in 44 overs (A. Gilchrist 76, M. Hussey 36 not out, A. Razzak three for 36).

A Special Correspondent