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March 31, 2007
Like a firework on a long-delay fuse, it was all over in a flash. The ground had only just been passed fit for a 22-over slogfest when Australia's intense competitors screeched through to their fifth resounding win of the tournament. Bangladesh, who entered the match with nothing to prove but their joie de vivre, succumbed to two waves of unconfined strokeplay - firstly from their own top order, who shed four wickets in just eight overs, and then from Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden, who showed rather better judgment and experience when their own turn came to tee off.
It was a performance that had Ricky Ponting in an uncompromisingly bullish mood after play. He dismissed out of hand a suggestion from Dav Whatmore, Bangladesh's coach, that the reduction of overs might have brought the two sides slightly closer together, snorting that it was "dumb" to think that any Australian team would ever take the field contemplating an upset. This current team certainly wouldn't. There is a steely glint in Ponting's eye at present, a desire for conquest that has been transferred to all his charges. Bangladesh, for all their recent improvements, were never even remotely in this contest.
"This is a World Cup, and a lot comes with playing cricket for Australia," Ponting said. "When you cross that white line it's about giving 100% and doing your best for yourself and for your team, and so I'm not surprised with what we've done so far. We've got room for improvement, sure, but I think we're pretty sharp in all areas. It's early in the tournament and no trophies are being handed out now, so we need to keep a lid on things, have a look at how we're playing and keep trying to improve."
Australia were clinical in all that they did today. Glenn McGrath, the oldest of stagers, recaptured the new ball in conditions nicely spiced up for his seamers, and one by one put Bangladesh's young thrusters back in their place. "I just tried to get the rhythm right early on, then mixed the pace up, and luckily I got a few wickets," he said with rare modesty on the day he overtook Wasim Akram as the World Cup's leading bowler with 57 victims. "They were always going to come hard at us, but I hope I've got a bit of experience under my belt."
The thrill that Tamim Iqbal provided with his assault on India's pacemen in Trinidad will live on in the annals of World Cup history, but Whatmore, who had substituted the word "fearless" for "foolish" on the eve of the match, this time issued a mild chastisement to his young top-order buccaneers. "It's a rush of blood here and a rush of blood there, and it's so frustrating to see," he said, "because they've got so much talent and ability."
McGrath skewered the top order with three wickets in his first four-over spell, and Whatmore said he had warned his players of the dangers he posed. "This guy's got the best economy rate of all their bowlers, and the boys knew that, but they still wanted to hit him," he said. "That's the frustrating part! You can see the talent in these kids, but that's what we've got to get out of our game. A little more discipline, and the application of a bit more logic, then we'll do better."
Even Ponting, a strident critic in the past of Bangladesh's right to full Test status, managed to take time away from his thousand-yard stare to acknowledge the progress they had made. "I think they've come a long way, certainly since I first started playing against them," he said. "To have a few teenaged kids in your side is exciting for any team. They are out there giving it a go, they are attacking and trying to mix it with the best and that's the only way to improve their cricket."
Ponting's tune began to change on Australia's tour to Bangladesh last year. "They surprised us a bit back then," he said, referring to their narrow three-wicket escape in the first Test at Fatullah. "We were on the ropes for a long time in that game, and chased 330-340 to win in the last innings. They've got a huge population over there, and if they keep working and spending money on facilities and infrastructure you'll see some very good players come out of there. "
For all the promise for the future, however, this match was most definitely rooted in the present. The distance between the two sides was considerably further than the seven ranking places that separate them on the ICC table, and Whatmore laughed out loud when asked how many more years it would take before Bangladesh could start sizing up a World Cup trophy of their own.
Ponting, on the other hand, is starting to count down the days. His team has got some issues to address. The calf strain that Shane Watson sustained will doubtless cause a reshuffle of their resources, while the success of the top four has meant batting opportunities for Andrew Symonds and Michael Hussey have been thin on the ground. "At the end of the day, if they don't get much of a hit, then we must be doing a great job through the tournament," Ponting said. "I'm sure they'll get runs if they get the opportunity."
England, who creaked to victory over Ireland in Guyana on Friday, are next in line for the Aussie juggernaut, which now has three days to rest and recharge some batteries before resuming training ahead of next Sunday's showdown. Part one of their mission has gone entirely according to plan.
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