So Australia escaped, mainly through the remarkable deeds of Ricky Ponting, once again demonstrating that he is the peerless Australian batsman of his age, a great age of Australian batsmanship.
This was his 31st century, and his first against Bangladesh. A lot of batsmen have scored a lot of easy runs against Bangladesh, but this was no easy century; I can think of almost a dozen that Ponting has scored that were easier; two against West Indies in Brisbane, and his second against South Africa in Sydney spring to mind just in this latest Australian season. This was close to being a masterpiece in fact.
It wasn’t quite perfect; he was dropped on 97, a difficult chance to Mashrafe Mortaza. It was watchful, thoughtful and dripping with purpose and energy. Ponting is no great shakes as a captain, but he’s one of the all-time great batsmen at the height of his powers, and he is a delight to watch.
But just as Ponting can be credited with saving a lost cause, Bangladesh can be faulted for losing it. In his Verdict for Cricinfo, Osman Samiuddin puts the case for the prosecution:
Even if we accept that Australia were tired – this was their 11th Test since October – five days ago nobody expected them to nervously chase just under a hundred on the last day with five wickets in hand. Five days ago, most expected the last day to be a day off. In this context alone, the performance is remarkable. But while everyone celebrates, Bangladesh might choose some serious contemplation instead. Should Bangladesh be happy they pushed Australia so close? Or should they grumble about having missed the opportunity to win it?
Their second-innings collapse – after Dav Whatmore had said he was hoping they wouldn’t do just that – will gnaw at them. Habibul Bashar has already repented his sin of a dismissal and if they were smart, then Aftab Ahmed, Rajin Saleh, Mohammad Rafique and Khaled Mashud, would follow suit. More than just a hundred runs separates chasing 300-plus and 400-plus.
And though Steve Waugh claimed he never told nobody about dropping World Cups, surely his successor Ricky Ponting could have told Mashrafe Mortaza that he had just dropped history through his fingers. Australia needed 24 when Ponting miscued a pull with only Stuart Clark and MacGill to come. And Mohammad Rafique might curse the pitch for offering too much spin when he beat Ponting’s outside edge. Ultimately, will it be any consolation that, like Multan, they should not have lost this Test? Or solace in Ponting’s words that, “They’ve played very, very well. For them to score 355 on the first day was a terrific effort. They certainly have come a long way.” Just one of the many intriguing after-effects of this Test will be how the home side now responds in Chittagong.
Australia have played eleven Tests since October and they’ve won ten of them. You don’t get a chance to beat Australia very often at all, so when the cricketing fates flow your way, you just have to take them. England did that last year to win the Ashes, but consider this. Since Ricky Ponting became captain of Australia in early 2004, Australia have lost just three Test matches.
It may well be a long time until Bangladesh get another chance to beat Australia and while they deserve commendation for pushing Australia as close as they did, which after all is way above what we expected, in the long run they will rue this missed opportunity.