Ashraful turns Aussie swagger into a stagger

Australia 249-5 Bangladesh 250-5 (Bangladesh win by five wickets)
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The Independent Online

In one of the greatest of all improbable sporting reversals, Australia lost to Bangladesh yesterday. It may be dangerously premature to say that the wheels are falling off their tour but spokes are flying all over the place.

It was their third defeat in five days following their crushing by England in the Twenty20 match and an unlikely battering by Somerset in a warm-up game. But this was the least likely. Put simply, it was Australia's worst loss and Bangladesh's greatest victory.

The end came with four balls left with a perilously scrambled single and Bangladesh, nerveless in hunting down their target of 250, had made history. In truth, it was over the ball before when Aftab Ahmed smashed a six between mid-wicket and long- one to level the scores.

But a greater truth still is that Bangladesh controlled this game, as a candid Australia captain, Ricky Ponting, conceded later. From the moment Australia made a mess of the toss by deciding to bat (an option with a hint of swagger about it) they were up against it.

Reduced to 9 for 2 with the ball jagging about menacingly on a perspiring pitch and conditions briefly overcast they recovered without ever being dominant. But nobody could have presumed Bangladesh would make 250 to win against Australia's attack even though the pitch was much less exacting by then.

They held their nerve marvellously. The fulcrum of the innings was a stand of 130 in 22 overs between their captain Habibul Bashar and the man of the match, Mohammad Ashraful, who made 100 from 101 balls. Ashraful was easily man of the match and the only surprise about that was that he received just 96 per cent of the vote from Sky television viewers. That's the trouble with democracy for you.

When Bashar was run out going for a dodgy single after the stumps had been hit at the wicketkeeper's end Australia might have sense they were back in it. But as a gracious Ponting said: "We might have got our noses up there but were never ahead all day." In any case, it served to bring Aftab Ahmed to the crease. He was the man who has put England to the sword twice this season and he was ready-made for this circumstance and vice versa.

If anything stood out about Bangladesh's exhibition, it was the way they held their nerve, as though they sensed destiny was at hand. This was made the more difficult to believe since they had won only nine of their previous 107 one-day matches, four of them against Zimbabwe, and another against Pakistan which is widely believed to have been rigged.

This result will be no more glorified than in the corridors of the International Cricket Council, who have repeatedly been forced to spring to Bangladesh's defence, a position that has not always been easy to take. Malcolm Speed, their chief executive, was present to see this wonderful justification.

Dav Whatmore, Bangla-desh's coach, almost played down the sensation. "This will mean a lot back home to show that we can achieve what we set out to achieve," he said.

Australia's wretched start to this Ashes tour was compounded by the fact they omitted Andrew Symonds from their side yesterday for disciplinary reasons. Ponting was angry with him for a "breach of team rules" and admitted it may have been a contributory factor to the defeat.

Symonds has become the fulcrum of their batting order in the past two years. For long enough they persisted with him despite rather than because of his contributions. The in the last World Cup he made a crucial century in Australia's opening match to get them out of a mess. He has never looked back and has averaged 44 since, scoring his runs at a rate of 90 per 100 balls. "I was angry with him and so were his team-mates," Ponting said.

Presumably, Australia had it in mind to score something in excess of 300 to give several batsmen more time in the middle and then burst through Bangladesh's batsmen as England's attack had done. But they must have been aware that the pitch was likely to be at its most contrary early on. Having been under cover for much of the week it was bound to sweat.

So it proved, and the movement was magnified by the new white ball. Bangladesh, bowled straight, especially Mashrafe Mortaza, who was incessantly probing and enjoying the jagged movement, and had Australia at 9 for 2 with two of the big guns, Adam Gilchrist and Ponting, palpably lbw.

Half-centuries from Damien Martyn and Michael Clarke and late hitting by Michael Hussey and Simon Katich made the world champions favourites. Ponting said as much. He was still utterly shocked that they could not defend 249. Against Bangladesh, he kept saying.

But Bangladesh were eminently sensible in their approach as the pitch eased. Needing 73 off 10 overs they exuded self-belief until Bashar was run out going for a single after a misfield. When Ashraful was out the ball after reaching a beautifully modulated century full of dashing pulls and sweeps (off one of which he was dropped) they might have thrown it away.

But they did not and Australia could do nothing about it. In the streets of Chittagong they were doubtless delirious last night; in Sydney they were wondering if Australia could bat, bowl or field.