What a game this cricket is. Bangladesh enjoyed their most thrilling day of Test cricket as they racked up 427, restricted Australia to 145 for 6, and allowed every Bangladeshi fan to dream beyond Sophia Gardens 2005. Stuart MacGill ran through Bangladesh with a career-best 8 for 108 but the gloss has been taken off all that by Bangladesh’s brilliant effort with the ball. It is presumptuous to hum David-slays-Goliath just yet, but few teams have enjoyed two such days of pulling it over Australia, who still require another 83 to avoid the follow-on.
The final two-and-a-half hours of play were the most fascinating. Following MacGill’s behemoth effort, Bangladesh proved that what Australia could do, they could do better. Where Australia’s fast bowlers were made to look ordinary, Mashrafe Mortaza and Shahadat Hossain produced an initial spell that took the breath out of the opposition. Mortaza got the first breakthrough when he dismissed Matthew Hayden lbw for 6 in the third over, and Hossain had Ricky Ponting going back to one that swung and kept low in the 12th. The tumultuous roar from every standing Bangladeshi in the stadium could well have been heard in Sydney.
And then Mohammad Rafique took centre stage. Rafique’s abilities as a fighter have rarely been doubted but today he reminded his fans that at the ripe old of 35 he had much to offer. He teased, he tempted, he held back and he was rewarded with two huge wickets. Damien Martyn, who looked uneasy against the indifferent bounce that he encountered in ten deliveries prior to his dismissal, made too much room to cut and was undone by one that kept very low. Michael Hussey, he of the phenomenal 70-plus average in both forms of the game, was made to grope and fend for his 23 runs before being beaten in the flight. On the eve of the Test, Rafique had mentioned that no batsman’s technique was a hundred percent correct and that he was dying to bowl to this Australian juggernaut. He got his big chance, and he made the most of it.
Habibul Bashar’s decision to bring on Enamul Haque jnr, the left-arm spinner, proved brilliant as the bowler let loose a ripper with his second ball. Michael Clarke went forward but was beaten by a beauty that pegged back his off stump. Shane Warne returned to bat, survived a few very close lbw shouts, and pushed at one that Khaled Mashud neatly snapped up. Where Bangladesh played Warne and MacGill with confidence, Australia were made to look like novices against Enamul’s luscious turn and Rafique’s cool control. Adam Gilchrist, who struck two huge sixes to claim the record for big hits in his unbeaten 51, may have endured sleepless nights in the past, but this one may just keep him up all night.
Bangladesh’s fairytale run in this Test continued when Rajin Saleh – whose fine 67 took them past 400 for only the fourth time – and Mashud, one of three players still in the side since Bangladesh’s first Test, thwarted Australia in the morning. They would have understood that time was of the essence and in this manner what the rookie and veteran achieved in their vital stand was extremely positive. Boundaries were rare, but the duo denied Australia an early breakthrough, dug themselves in further, and then opened up with some well-judged singles that spread the field and frustrated the opposition.
But matters swung firmly Australia’s way in the second session. In the absence of Warne, still off the field nursing a sore shoulder and figures of 0 for 112, MacGill rose to the occasion admirably and snared all five Bangladeshi wickets to fall in the day. Suddenly the fizz was back and the loop nasty as the ball pitched and darted across the bat. With his tail up MacGill can be a deadly bowler, and two strikes after lunch was just what he needed. Rafique was cleaned up going for an ambitious swipe across the line and then Saleh, who had batted so defiantly, was dismissed in anticlimactic fashion when he prodded softly to Andrew Symonds at short leg. The end was merely a formality after that.
MacGill’s figures were the best by any bowler in Bangladesh, and he stepped up to take the bowling responsibility on his shoulders. His performance aside, Australia have little to take from this day. That the only men to take wickets were MacGill – who did not get a game in South Africa – and Gillespie – who was out of the side since August – was perhaps indicative of the scheduling of this series, less than a week after a tour to South Africa.
Bangladesh have been stuck in the shadows of their neighbouring giants – India and Pakistan – but in the first two days they have done, at home, what neither country has pulled off against Australia for a while now. A popular Pakistani pop song that gained immense popularity when it became part of an Indian movie’s soundtrack, was blaring to out to Bangladeshi fans as play resumed after lunch. The main line goes something like this: “Ab toh aadat si hai aise jeene mein” (“Now its become a habit to live this way”). If Bangladesh can make it a habit to play their cricket this way, they’ll soon be a force to be reckoned with.