Brilliant Ponting seals the deal
In the end, the scorebooks will record that on April 13, 2006 Australia beat Bangladesh by three wickets at Fatullah. But that does little to showcase a thrilling match in which Bangladesh were the dominant side for the better part. On a frenetic fifth afternoon - a day this match was not even supposed to go into - Ricky Ponting's awesome 118 not out sealed a great win but the battle was much, much harder than it seemed.
Those who have followed this match knew that another classic twist was always around the corner as Ponting marched into the nineties. Brett Lee was dimissed for a vital 29 by Mashrafe Mortaza - rewarding his captain's decision to take the new ball - and then Ponting was given a slice of luck that had Bangladesh going into lunch shaking their heads. Shahadat Hossain banged one short, Ponting swiveled into his favourite shot, the ball spiralled high to deep backward square leg where Mortaza dived and dropped a swirling chance. A push through covers for four off Mortaza brought Ponting his sensational hundred and the bowler walked back to his mark knowing that he had dropped the match.
A flurry of boundaries after the interval took Australia to within three runs of victory and all but sealed the affair, but still Bangladesh refused to cave in. Shahadat sent down three bouncers in a row to Ponting, one of which struck him square in the helmet. Bowler stared down batsman, words were exchanged, and in the end the match concluded in the same in-your-face aggression that had played out for four days.
Ponting's effort must go down as another classic. Australia, who haven't lost a Test since surrendering the Ashes, were in danger of falling prey to one of the biggest upsets in Test history if not for Ponting's most meaningful hundred this year. As Mohammad Rafique struck gold with the wickets of Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne first thing in the morning, Ponting looked on, memories of Old Trafford fresh in his head. When push comes to shove Ponting has always been the aggressor, and today was no exception.
The battle of the morning was always going to be him versus Rafique, and Ponting won it hands down. Rafique tossed it up but Ponting was right there, feet and bat firmly in defiance. When he used the quicker one, Ponting was back and across. When he erred in line and dropped it short, Ponting pulled him for four or cut past point. He had his moments - Rafique got one to spit and rip past his forward prod and a leave to Enamul Haque came agonisingly close to off - but otherwise Ponting was supreme in his assessment of the situation. Most importantly, he did not let the situation get on top of him. Singles were stolen wide of cover and short of square leg and his overall rotation of the strike with a confident Lee was worthy of a battle-hardened veteran.
Ponting was quick to acknowledge the scare Bangladesh had given them. "They've played very, very well. For them to score 355 on the first day was a terrific effort," he said at the end of the match. "They certainly have come a long way. A few of us had to put our hand up in the second innings and make sure the job was done. lt was just nice to be there at the end of the day." Adam Gilchrist's brilliant 144 earned him the Man-of-the-Match award and it was this effort that allowed Australia to crawl their way back into the match.
Bangladesh have only ever won one Test match in their six years as a Test nation and that was against a depleted Zimbabwe side, and things almost changed here. Habibul Bashar and his band of would-be giant-killers didn't scale Mount Improbable, but the view from base camp must have looked very promising. Bangladesh can take some positives from this match - Shahriar Nafees's hundred, Bashar's own hand with the bat, and Rafique's superior effort with ball. In both Australian innings Rafique was the key, taunting the mighty with his loop and turn and getting them to dance to his tune. Today, as Australia attempted their bid for another win, he put the lethal faster one to use, dismissing Gilchrist and Warne, he checked Lee numerous times and forced him to hustle onto the back foot.
Bangladesh also have problems to address - the fielding, the running between wickets, and an appalling second-innings record - but now they will believe that they can compete with the best in the business. Mohammad Ashraful played but a little role in this Test but can lay claim to having sown its seeds. For it was a balmy summer's afternoon last year at Sophia Gardens when he defied Australia and allowed all of Bangladesh to dream. With a little more of the brilliance they showed in bursts here, they wont have to dream anymore.
Adam Gilchrist b Rafique 12 (225 for 5)
Rocked back, missed completely, offstump knocked back
Shane Warne lbw b Rafique 5 (231 for 6)
Full, struck on the pad as he went forward
Brett Lee c Mashud b Mortaza 29 (277 for 7)
Quick delivery, extra bounce had him fending for the thick edge
Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo