Punter and co left eating humble pie
April 14, 2006
Bangladesh's brave fightback showed they're no longer cannon fodder, writes Andrew Stevenson.
RICKY Ponting had stared humiliation in the face for long enough to walk off the ground in Fatullah yesterday without a spring in his step or a fist pumped in the sign of victory.
With a captain's innings that took him yet another large step away from impetuous youth, Ponting saved Australia's bacon - and maybe the Test careers of some of the more cavalier souls in his side who were unable to cope with the challenge thrown their way by Bangladesh.
Having shot his mouth off in the past, laughingly dismissing at Bangladesh as inadequate rivals for the might of Australia, Ponting brushed the crumbs of humble pie from his shirt front between overs and stayed determinedly focused on his retrieval mission. Australia's most mortifying defeat had been averted.
In the end, it was probably a single spilled chance in Ponting's unbeaten 118 - an ungainly top-edged hook and an equally ungainly attempt at fine leg by fast bowler Mashrafe Mortaza just before lunch - that stood between the two sides. Had it stuck, the game would have been back on the edge of a sharp knife with Jason Gillespie and the Stuarts, Clark and MacGill, left to get the last 24 runs.
Beaten, Bangladesh still managed to look like winners. Or, if not quite like winners, Test cricket's 10th-ranked side - with a single victory to their name - had seen enough fear in the faces of their supposedly invincible adversary to know they had arrived as players and as a team.
They came out knowing they needed early wickets. Adam Gilchrist obliged with a backyard swish. Warne came and went and left-arm spinner Mohammad Rafique kept asking questions for which Australia had few answers.
Bangladesh played with lightness and confidence, while Australia ground their way relentlessly toward the 307 runs they needed for victory. Bangladesh had smiles on their faces and fire in their bellies. And why not: cowering at their feet sat the pride of Australia.
What was it they'd said? Ponting was blunt enough last year. Minnows, such as Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, should be off limits, playing among themselves, until they were ready to be served up for Test match competition.
To be fair, the Australian captain recanted and, to be fair a second time, he was not alone. Former Australian captain Richie Benaud called for Bangladesh's expulsion from Test ranks: "They are simply not good enough to be pitched against proper Test match countries."
Shane Warne, hit for 112 runs at a tick under six an over without a single wicket in the first innings, was as blunt. "My concern is that the brand of Test cricket is being devalued and that is bad for the sport," he wrote in the Sunday Times
. "Easy runs and wickets are distorting the records."
If it wasn't the quality, it was the workload. We're playing too much, bleated Australia's champs, and we're way too busy to play a warm-up match. Left unsaid was "Why would we need to?".
Why indeed with Ponting, looking increasingly grizzled under his fifth-day growth, strong enough to carry a few mates home. Selectors' memories, notoriously selective, are inevitably kinder in the rosy hue of victory. Still, neither Damien Martyn (4 and 7) nor Michael Clarke (19 and 9) will sleep very well tonight.
But, while scapegoats mightn't be too hard to find, the first Test is a better time to laud a new arrival. They'd already done it - humbling Australia last June by five wickets. But that was a hit and giggle. In a Test match, class will come out. And it did. Bangladesh refused to be cowed and competed until the last delivery.