For a while, the hunter became the hunted

Top-flight sport is about finding a higher gear when needed and as Bangladesh's out-cricket slipped away, Australia found a new transmission. That, perhaps, separated the sides.

Most of Bangladesh's 42 Tests had stuck unerringly to script: a defeat and a few days of fishing for those so inclined. So, when Australia went to Fatullah for the first of two Tests — the classic mismatch pitting the world's best team against the world's worst — few expected play to enter the final day.

Fewer still expected a drama-drenched fifth day that involved the world's best batsman, furrowed brow and all, preventing the unthinkable with his ninth century in just 14 matches. For Bangladesh at various stages of this most curious of Tests had the world champions by the throat. Clearly unaccustomed to such positions of dominance, Habibul Bashar's men let up.

Perhaps the Australians, with 11 Tests since October, were just the tad jaded for they were caught off-guard when left-handed opener Shahriar Nafees — despite a conk on the helmet from Brett Lee — launched into them on the first day. Nafees, 20, made a 189-ball 138 as Bangladesh scored at more than four runs an over on day one. When Mashrafe Mortaza lumbered in from fine leg on the final day to get his palms to a swirler that emerged from a top-edged Ricky Ponting hook, Australia — seven down — needed 24 to get to 307 and save itself humiliation. But, the big fast bowler shelled it and in that `You dropped the Cup mate' moment vanished Bangladesh's chances of causing one of the upsets of all time.

Top-flight sport is about finding a higher gear when needed and as Bangladesh's out-cricket slipped away, Australia found a new transmission. That, perhaps, separated the sides. Bangladesh didn't quite know what to do having never been there — crucial singles were allowed on the final day and the captain ran himself out in the second innings when a further 100 runs would have made all the difference.

"The way I was run out was the most pathetic experience of my whole career," said Bashar. "There is no excuse for the way I got out. It gave us a lesson that one mistake can snatch all the initiative away when playing against a team like Australia." Nothing, however, should be taken away from how Bangladesh competed. Ridiculed in some circles, their Test status questioned (by Ponting, who changed tack and unconvincingly said the politically right thing on the eve of this Test), the minnows showed they can go toe-to-toe with the best. A certain Shane Warne went for 112 runs from 20 overs in the first stint — his most expensive figures in terms of runs per over any time he has bowled more than 10 overs during his career.

"They played very very well. For them to score 355 on the first day was a terrific effort," said Ponting, who now has centuries against every Test nation. "They certainly have come a long way and a few of us put our hands up in the second innings and made sure the job was done. It was nice to just be there at the end."

An end that could just have easily been among the most most momentous in cricketing history. Bangladesh after notching up 427 in the first innings had Australia at 93 for six. The men from the Antipodes couldn't come to terms with the low bounce and struggled to match the rate at which Bangladesh had scored. After Mortaza and Shahadat Hossain — fast shaping into a pace pair of reasonable skill — got Hayden and Ponting early, left-arm spinners Mohammad Rafique and Enamul Haque jr., in between spells of control, bowled some jaffas.

Rafique, the canny veteran, has played a major part in two of Bangladesh's best Test moments prior to this Test: the 35-year-old had taken five in the first innings against Pakistan in 2003 at Multan, where the newest Test-playing nation had come within a wicket of victory; he had also scalped five in Bangladesh's only victory (against Zimbabwe). The flatter of the two, he fired them into the right-handers and turned them away, while 19-year-old Haque's classical high arm produced one that spun across Michael Clarke's bat.

But, Adam Gilchrist, who had scored just one half-century in 13 innings, put his head down to make 144 from 212 balls with 15 fours and six sixes and take Australia to 269. Then, Bangladesh pulled itself into a position where it was 224 ahead and had eight wickets to set a target nearer 400 than 300. But, not for nothing is Australia the best side by a bit, and Clarke ran Bashar out to trigger a collapse.

Another run out, this time by Haque, brought Bangladesh back after Hayden and Ponting had threatened to breeze home, and Rafique snaffled two early wickets on the fifth day to make things interesting. Punter, however, held firm.

THE SCORES

First Test, Bangladesh v Australia, Fatullah, April 9-13, 2006. Australia won by three wickets.

Bangladesh — 1st innings: J. Omar lbw b Gillespie 27; S. Nafees b MacGill 138; H. Bashar c Lee b MacGill 76; R. Saleh c sub b MacGill 67; M. Ashraful lbw b Gillespie 29; A. Ahmed c Hayden b MacGill 29; K. Mashud st. Gilchrist b MacGill 17; M. Rafique b MacGill 6; M. Mortaza lbw b MacGill 6; S. Hossain (not out) 3; E. Haque jr. c Hayden b MacGill 0; Extras (lb-16, w-2, nb-11) 29. Total: 427.

Fall of wkts: 1-51, 2-238, 3-265, 4-295, 5-351, 6-398, 7-416, 8-417, 9-424.

Australia bowling: Lee 19-5-68-0; Clark 25-4-69-0; Gillespie 23-7-47-2; Warne 20-1-112-0; MacGill 33.3-2-108-8; Clarke 3-0-7-0.

Australia — 1st innings: M. Hayden lbw b Mortaza 6; M. Hussey b Rafique 23; R. Ponting lbw b Hossain 21; D. Martyn b Rafique 4; M. Clarke b Haque 19; A. Gilchrist c Hossain b Rafique 144; S. Warne c Mashud b Haque 6; B. Lee lbw b Mortaza 15; J. Gillespie b Rafique 26; S. Clark lbw b Rafique 0; S. MacGill (not out) 0; Extras (lb-4, nb-1) 5. Total: 269.

Fall of wkts: 1-6, 2-43, 3-50, 4-61, 5-79, 6-93, 7-156, 8-229, 9-268.

Bangladesh bowling: Mortaza 22-3-56-2; Hossain 14-2-48-1; Rafique 32.2-9-62-5; Haque jr. 25-4-83-2; Ashraful 1-0-11-0; Saleh 1-0-5-0.

Bangladesh — 2nd innings: J. Omar c Gilchrist b Gillespie 18; Nafees b Lee 33; H. Bashar (run out) 7; R. Saleh c Hayden b Gillespie 33; M. Ashraful lbw b Clark 4; A. Ahmed lbw b MacGill 17; K. Mashud b Gillespie 0; M. Rafique lbw b Warne 14; E. Haque jr. lbw b Warne 0; M. Mortaza b Warne 0; S. Hossain (not out) 1; Extras (b-10, lb-7, nb-4) 21. Total: 148.

Fall of wkts: 1-48, 2-58, 3-67, 4-77, 5-124, 6-128, 7-147, 8-147, 9-147.

Australia bowling: Lee 8-0-48-1; Gillespie 11-4-18-3; MacGill 13-4-29-1; Clark 4-2-8-1; Warne 13-4-28-3; Clarke 1-1-0-0.

Australia — 2nd innings: M. Hayden (run out) 72; M. Hussey b Haque 37; R. Ponting (not out) 118; D. Martyn b Rafique 7; M. Clarke c Mashud b Rafique 9; A. Gilchrist b Rafique 12; S. Warne lbw b Rafique 5; B. Lee c Mashud b Mortaza 29; J. Gillespie (not out) 7; Extras (b-4, lb-7, w-1, nb-2) 14. Total (for seven wkts) 310.

Fall of wkts: 1-64, 2-173, 3-183, 4-205, 5-225, 6-231, 7-277.

Bangladesh bowling: Mortaza 22-7-54-1; Hossain 20-5-67-0; Rafique 38-6-98-4; Haque jr. 27-5-80-1.

A Special Correspondent