July 18, 2003

Bangladesh no match for Australian fire

Close Australia 121 for 2 (Langer 40*, Lehmann 51*) lead Bangladesh 97 (Ashraful 23, McGrath 3-20, Lee 3-23) by 24 runs

First blood: Jason Gillespie removes Javed Omar for a duck

The Australian crawl used to be the style that powered their swimmers to the top of the world rankings, but it was never a term meant to describe their batting against the minnows of world cricket. But that was what happened today in Darwin, when Australia cold-footed it to 121 for 2 by stumps - a lead of 24 - after Bangladesh had become the first Test side to score less than 100 at Test cricket's newest outpost.

For all but the last dozen or so overs, the Australian run rate sputtered along at around 2.5 an over, before climbing to 2.69. Coming from a side that has made scoring at a fast clip one of the cornerstones of their success - since the Ashes series of 2001, they have scored at 3.96 per over - it was bizarre to watch.

However, despite the loss of Matthew Hayden (11) and Ricky Ponting (10), Australia were in a formidable position with Justin Langer and Darren Lehmann at the crease, and the threat of Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist and Martin Love to follow. Bangladesh will be thankful that the Marrara Oval has such a painfully slow outfield. While it denied them more runs, it frustrated the Australians as much, if not more.

The Australians walked out to field wearing black armbands, in memory of Victoria stalwart John Scholes, who died earlier this week aged only 53. The Bangladeshis, as expected, struggled to cope with the experienced bowling attack when asked to bat first on a pitch of variable bounce. Poor technique was ruthlessly exposed, with several dismissals attributable to failing to get in line, leaving gaps between bat and pad or playing down the wrong line. Glenn McGrath added three scalps to lift his career haul to 428, while Brett Lee, despite an inconsistent spell, took 3 for 23.

Mohammad Ashraful briefly suggested that he could provide the necessary solidity to the Bangladesh innings, but then, in the vital moments before lunch, he miscued a hook off the last ball of the first over of Glenn McGrath's second spell, chipping it up for Jason Gillespie to take the catch behind square leg.

The seventh-wicket pairing of the two Khaleds, Mashud and Mahmud, achieved the highest partnership of the innings, adding 27. Mahmud relished successive fours off McGrath - a pull and a hook - but the bowler had the last word, breaking the stand by having Mashud leg before wicket.

Mahmud followed soon after for 21, when an attempted cut off Stuart MacGill was top-edged to Adam Gilchrist. Gillespie and Brett Lee polished off the lower order. The Australian bowling bore the hallmarks of an out-of-season campaign but it was still too much for Test cricket's newest boys.

Lehmann's half-century was his fifth in Tests, coming off 93 balls, while Langer - who edged one from Kapali between Mashud and Habibul Bashar, at first slip, when he had made 35 - was unbeaten on 40 at the close.

It proved a slow first day, and the tourists - after an embarrassing batting display - could feel well pleased about having forced the Australian batsmen to treat them with respect. How long that respect lasts will be the story of the second day.