First Test

Bangladesh v Australia, 2005-06

Nabila Ahmed

At Fatullah, April 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 2006. Australia won by three wickets. Toss: Bangladesh.

The day began like any other in Dhaka. Just over the fence of the Australians' hotel, children bathed in a green-tinged swamp; on the streets, rickshaw-wallahs fought over who was in whose lane; and at the Syderbad junction, where buses, rickshaws, baby taxis and cars burst out of Dhaka, Australia's champions had to wait, like everyone else, for the chaos to subside before their lime-green bus could push through to Fatullah, some 15 kilometres out of the capital.

Already, the sun was beating down, eager to break through the smog, as the bus snaked through the seething city streets to the narrow, unsealed roads of Narayanganj, past the thatched-roofed, mud-floored chai stalls with their tiny television sets, under a grand bamboo gate covered with pleated white cloth, and into the Fatullah Stadium - Test cricket's 93rd venue, replacing Dhaka's Bangabandhu Stadium, now given over to football.

Ponting later admitted that, had the team been "fair dinkum", one or two men should not even have boarded that bus after what seemed a never-ending summer. Australia had played for ten months with barely a break since starting the Ashes tour, and it was only five days since they had won their last Test, in Johannesburg. They were aware that, in theory, they were tired enough and Bangladesh talented enough for something unexpected. But not even Bangladesh could have dreamed how unexpected.

Despite what captain Habibul Bashar said about his side being respectful but not frightened of Australia, not one player thought it important to have his family present that first day. Habibul himself burst out laughing when someone seriously asked him for his tip. "What will we do? Oh yeah, we're just going to thrash them and cleansweep the series!" Neither the team nor their 144 million compatriots thought they could hope to compete until the one-day series.

At first, that seemed correct. Lee thundered in for the opening over and had Javed Omar spooked: he played and missed and scrounged and scrambled and somehow kept Lee out for a maiden. But one breathtaking shot from 20-year-old left-hander Shahriar Nafees - a pull off Clark ferocious enough for his idol Gilchrist - seized the momentum. Nafees always seemed in command. Even when Lee hit his helmet, the ball went for four leg-byes, and he drove him for four next over. He swept Warne with ease. The brazen Nafees led an unthinkable uprising, and at lunch the world champions were staring at 144 for one - 12 more than England's blazing first session in the Ashes Test at Edgbaston, in two fewer overs.

With Habibul, Nafees put on 187, an all-wicket Bangladesh record; he reached a stunning maiden hundred with his 16th four, and struck three more in his 138. In front of a small crowd who danced, chanted and beat their drums, he made a compelling case for the underdogs, while the attack struggled on a bone-dry, sand-coloured pitch as hard as it was flat. Only Gillespie and MacGill - who got one through Nafees's guard after four and a half hours - thrived as Bangladesh reached a barnstorming 355 for five by the end of a day described by a local paper as "better than imagination". Warne was smacked for 112 from 20 wicketless overs; he spent most of the next day indoors nursing a strained shoulder and a bruised ego.

Incredibly, Bangladesh continued to dominate on day two. Though MacGill orchestrated a collapse after lunch, four in 20 balls giving him a career-best eight for 108, 427 was their second-highest total. But the real sensation was to come. In 15 mad overs before tea, they ripped out Hayden, Ponting and Martyn, reducing Australia to 50 for three; in the final session, the spinners made that 93 for six.

At the close, Australia still needed 83 to save the follow-on, and much more to stave off one of the greatest upsets in history. But, even with Bangladesh in the driving seat, their coach Dav Whatmore worried that they would be unable to follow through. Not for the first time, Gilchrist turned the tide. His once-dynamic Test batting had slumped of late, but he overcame a scratchy beginning to regain some of his old powers. Reaching fifty on the second evening, he had passed two landmarks: his first six took him past Chris Cairns's Test record of 87 sixes, his second past 5,000 Test runs. Next day, a beautifully driven four through the covers brought up his first Test century in more than a year, and completed his set of hundreds against all the other nine Test teams, as he patiently guided his country past the follow-on target. It was the slowest of his 16 centuries, though he began to return to his usual tempo as he ran out of partners, hitting over a leg-side field stacked with four men to smash 23 off nine balls from left-arm spinner Enamul Haque. In all, he hit six sixes and 15 fours before he was last out, with the deficit 158.

In the second innings, Australia's attack roared back into life and the Bangladeshi batsmen reverted to type. They tumbled for 148 as Gillespie and Warne snared three apiece. Having watched Gilchrist succeed slowly, Australia employed an unusually circumspect approach to chasing 307 on a pitch that kept low. Waiting for the rare bad balls, Hayden and Hussey built a steady opening stand before Hussey was bowled inexplicably sweeping at Enamul. The normally brutish Hayden occasionally hit out square of the wicket, but was largely restrained as he combined with Ponting to add 109. They nudged and nurdled their way at less than three an over.

Just as cricket's order appeared to be restored, however, Bangladesh fired a reminder that they were not yet done. Mohammad Rafique's left-arm spin claimed two wickets on the fourth evening and two more in the morning. But a critical mistake by Mashrafe bin Mortaza put the match beyond them: he dropped Ponting at fine leg just before lunch. That would have been 283 for eight, but Ponting completed his 31st Test hundred, and after the break steered his team to a tense three-wicket win.

Man of the Match: A. C. Gilchrist.

© John Wisden & Co.