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June 18, 2005
"The bigger they come the harder they fall" is a cliché that has been doing the rounds since the days of a certain shepherd-boy and his slingshot, but never in the history of international cricket has there been a greater giant-slaying act than the one just witnessed at Sophia Gardens.
The magnitude of the heist that Bangladesh have just pulled off simply beggars belief. If they fail to score another run or take another wicket on the entire tour, it will not matter one iota. They have achieved more in a single game than they could ever have hoped to achieve in the entire competition, and in doing so, they have secured the respect of the international cricket world. Respect. It's all the nation has ever been looking for. Today they achieved that aim in spades. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of their lives.
Cricket has witnessed its fair share of one-off upsets in the past - in fact, until today, Bangladesh's only realistic crumbs of comfort have been a victory over Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup and against India on Boxing Day last year. But this result was something entirely different. Say it out loud. Bangladesh, whose record before today read P107 W9, L96 have just beaten Australia, the triple World Champions and the most menacing team of assassins ever to have stalked the covers. Nope, I still don't believe I'm hearing myself right.
Usually in such situations, it is the moment to take stock, breathe deeply and offer up a silent prayer to the glorious uncertainty of sport, that wonderful phenomenon that gives us moments to savour such as these - Liverpool's Champions' League comeback, Western Samoa's victory over Wales, Hereford beating Newcastle United. Glorious one-offs that lift the spirits for the moment but, in the bigger picture, don't exactly alter the landscape in which they are played.
Today, however, rational analysis can go hang. Today it is time to take a leaf out of the Bangladeshis' book as they cavorted on the outfield after the match in innocent, ecstatic, unadulterated astonishment. Today is the moment to get totally and utterly, completely, carried away in the here and now.
In the blink of an eye, all the pretence has been stripped away. All the spurious claims that Australia didn't take the Twenty20 match seriously; that the Somerset match might have been different if they hadn't opted for batting practice over run-accumulation, and that all will be fine and dandy come the Test series. No-one's buying that anymore, for the greatest pretence of all has been exploded as well: the myth of Aussie invincibility.
Like the great West Indian sides of the 1980s, fear was the key for these Aussies - they exported it like cheap lager, through the brooding gunslinging certainty that the likes of Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie would bring to every tight situation. But today the only terror was in the minds of the menaces themselves. After their dismal performances against England and Somerset, Australia were paralysed by the dreaded question: "what if?" After their marmalisation in the Tests and Thursday's first one-dayer, on the other hand, Bangladesh were liberated by the opposite thought: "So what?" It was the type of leveller that the FA Cup has thrived on for generations, but no-one ever envisaged the day that these Australians would crash out in the first round.
There are two bigger pictures taking shape as a consequence of this result. The first concerns Bangladesh's development, which in the space of 99.2 overs has suddenly taken on a rosier hue than anyone could ever have foreseen. At the start of this tour, I wrote that Bangladesh could consider their time in England a success if one, maybe two, of their young players came of age. Today Mohammad Ashraful and Aftab Ahmed answered the call. They have produced innings of one-off magnificence in the past, though invariably in a lost cause. Today, they learned how to be world-beaters, in a game that Bangladesh bossed from the moment Australia slumped to 9 for 2. The average age of the squad is 21. Give them five years, and see what happens.
The other issue won't take nearly as long to come to a resolution. Australia thought that this summer's schedule would play into their hands, with a gentle and largely meaningless one-day tournament setting them up nicely for the Ashes. But all of a sudden, they face a crunch encounter wherever they look, starting at Bristol tomorrow morning, of all the grim hangovers to be served up.
England will be going for the jugular and no mistake. They have already promised to engage in a "bounce a bowler" campaign, with the stated aim of breaking one or two fingers, along with Australia's morale. It is going to be a long hard climb back to parity from here. They wanted this series to be their ultimate test - there is no longer any doubt that it will be.
As for the Bangladeshis, they - like Sanath Jayasuriya and Graeme Smith at Taunton - have earned the gratitude of every English cricket fan whom they will encounter for the rest of the season. In theory, Australia versus the Rest of the World doesn't get underway until October. But in practice the rebellion is already in full swing.