Downpours, dust-ups and Dizzy's double: Pt I |

Downpours, dust-ups and Dizzy's double: Pt I

12 August 2017

Jason Gillespie celebrates his double ton in 2006 // Getty Images

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Ahead of Australia's first Test tour of Bangladesh in more than 11 years, we look back on the 2006 Chittagong Test, which had been a memorable rollercoaster ride before Jason Gillespie picked up a bat

About the Writer:

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.

It was a statistical aberration, a premise so preposterous that it took Australia's then Prime Minister and self-ordained "cricket tragic" John Howard to capture its full absurdity.

"If Jason Gillespie can score 200 ... anything is possible," observed the PM who in 1989 after being ousted as his Party's leader bluntly rated his own chances of one day returning to the top job as 'Lazarus with a triple bypass'.

Or, in cricket terms, as far-fetched as a makeshift nightwatchman batting across four days of a Test match.

Quick Single: Dizzy knew historic double was the end

As Boys' Own as a bloke who, in 73 of his previous 92 Test innings had posted a score of 20 or less, suddenly finds himself batting at number three for his country and not only helps himself to a century for the first time in his cricket life but greedily grabs the chance to pour a double.

Bill Lawry, the ex-Test captain whose stodgy approach to batting saw him labelled 'The Corpse with Pads On' looked positively expansive compared to Gillespie, who had earned the less macabre but equally apt nickname 'Walking Forward Defence', was less diplomatic.

"If you can't bowl out Jason Gillespie on a full day of play, you've got a problem," Lawry surmised after those unlikely events at Chittagong a decade ago when Bangladesh's bowlers were staved and eventually flayed by the first – and to date, only – card-carrying tailender to score 200 in a Test.

Gillespie celebrates scoring 100 in Chittagong // Getty

After inking his entry into a record book he never felt the need to peruse, Gillespie laughed off the peak he scaled on his 31st birthday as "ridiculous", "surreal" and "a fairy tale".

"I haven't even got a hundred in the backyard," he chortled, pointing out that he had never held pretensions beyond a batting appendix and that his previous best personal effort was the 90 he'd posted in "E-Grade" for his grade club Adelaide while a teenager.

Man of the match for his 201no (which remained the most recent offshore Test double century by an Australian until Steve Smith's 215 at Lord's last year) and player of that two-Test series against Bangladesh for topping the batting and bowling averages, Gillespie never again represented his country.

But the improbable exclamation point he slapped on his international career has effectively blotted out the raft of swirling undercurrents and rash of unique incursions that made that Chittagong Test even more noteworthy than its fanciful final scorecard.

The touring party that Ricky Ponting led into Dhaka on April 6, 2006 – still the only Australia Test outfit to make landfall in Bangladesh in its 15 years of competing at cricket's elite level – was exhausted, grumpy and neither physically or mentally in good fettle for what awaited.

A three-week hit-and-run mission to a developing nation with around 160 million people crammed into an area less than the UK to face an unfancied foe, but one that was up for a fight having landed a famous knock-out blow on a groggily unsteady Australian ODI outfit in Cardiff a year earlier.

It was the final stop of a remorseless 18-month program for Ponting's men that had yielded an historic Test series win in India, an unprecedented short- and long-form whitewash in New Zealand, a stinging Ashes defeat in the UK and a forgettable ICC Super Series as well as a couple of unblemished domestic summers and a successful, just-completed month-long assignment in South Africa.

Indeed, the players opted to travel direct to Dhaka from Johannesburg and forego the offer of a day or two at home in between as it meant fewer hours in the air, even if the flipside was a slightly longer stint in the Bangladesh capital.

Although the schedule remained so tight as to allow the tourists only two perfunctory training sessions at Narayanganj Osmani Stadium, an hour's commute from Dhaka's seething city centre, before the first Test began.

That inadequate preparation took Australia to the brink of another calamitous loss as they tumbled to 6-93 in reply to Bangladesh's feisty first innings of 427 before one of Adam Gilchrist's most timely centuries, a fit of second innings jitters from the home team and the steady hand of Ponting got them across the line.

Gilchrist hits out on his way to a ton in the 2006 Dhaka Test // Getty

"We had guys (on day one of that opening Test in Dhaka) that, if we were fair dinkum should not have played, they shouldn't have taken the field because they were totally exhausted and fatigued," Ponting was to snap at tour's end.

And it was not only tortured muscles and clouded minds that the Australians took with them on the 200km hop from the capital to the haze-enshrouded industrial port city of Chittagong for the second Test.

They had, as one, fixed their eyes on a rare stretch of down time that loomed post-Bangladesh, in which they could rehabilitate their bodies and brains for what all came to accept would be the defining challenge of their era – wresting back the Ashes in the home summer of 2006-07.

Their ears also rang with words from then ICC (and former Cricket Australia) Chief Executive Malcolm Speed who had penned an article that addressed player concerns they were being stretched beyond the agreed maximum of 15 Test matches and 30 ODIs in any 12-month period.

Completing their 17th Test (on top of the 35 ODIs and three T20 Internationals they were to complete over the previous 10 months) it wasn't only Chittagong's clawing heat that raised players' temperatures as they absorbed Speed's response.

"They are engaged in their career of choice," the ICC boss counselled cricketers who had cited the adverse effects of relentless touring and playing commitments on body and mind.

"They are doing something that the vast majority of people that watch them in action can only dream of, and they are well-paid too."

Ponting inspects Chittagong pitch preparations // Getty

Despite holding a one-Test lead in a two-match series, Ponting was duly steaming beneath the collar of his white training polo shirt and his body-hugging lycra undergarment as he inspected the baked, bare Chittagong Divisional Stadium pitch on game eve.

During his team's first and only visit to the concrete-ringed venue sandwiched between the city's cattle market and a coast that hosted a string of hauntingly apocalyptic ship breaking yards, Ponting confronted the man overseeing the pitch's final vulcanising in an exchange fuelled more by frustration than expectation.

"Why isn't there any of that," Ponting asked with eyes narrowed, pointing first at the verdant grass cover either side of the Test strip and then back at the denuded pitch "on this?".

The answer – an obligatory head wobble – did little to assuage the Australia captain's ill humour and meant the subsequent meeting between Ponting, coach John Buchanan and touring selector Merv Hughes was similarly devoid of inspiration.

Hughes, Ponting and Buchanan discuss tactics // Getty

They mulled over sparing Brett Lee (who had announced he was bereft of petrol and operating solely on 'fumes') the heartache by naming uncapped quick Mitchell Johnson to partner Gillespie and Stuart Clark in a pace attack already missing Glenn McGrath (in Australia with his terminally ill wife, Jane), Michael Kasprowicz and Shaun Tait (absent with back ailments).

In the end, they opted to debut 22-year-old off-spinner Dan Cullen who – along with seamer Nathan Bracken - had been hastily added to the squad during the Dhaka Test as Shane Warne picked up a shoulder injury while fielding and Clark and Lee laboured under the thankless workload.

Sharing Cullen's freshness if not his youth was the spinner's Adelaide grade club teammate Gillespie, whose Australia career appeared over during the previous year's Ashes debacle but had been a potent force in the Sheffield Shield as his former Test teammates increasingly fell by the wayside.

Dan Cullen receives his Baggy Green cap from Shane Warne // Getty

Axed after the third Test at Old Trafford in 2005 – where he was targeted mercilessly by England's top-order batters who saw him as shy of pace and even more bereft of confidence – Gillespie assumed his time as a Test player was done given the way in which Ponting passed on the news.

"There was no 'bad luck, mate' or pat on the shoulder, which confirmed for me that I no longer had the support of my captain," Gillespie later observed in his autobiography.

So with four months of regroup time looming for those other quicks feeling the pinch, and the chances of him being invited back into the upcoming Ashes fray about as likely as him setting a batting record, Gillespie felt an inkling this was perhaps his farewell Test as he grasped the new ball on that first morning in Chittagong.

A start that was delayed after local media representatives – incensed by the rough injustice meted out to a very senior press photographer by one of the ground's uniform-clad security detail – staged a defiant protest sit-in alongside the Test pitch.

During lunch, to which Gillespie took figures of 3-11 having struck three times in his first four overs, the still incensed media men confronted the head of stadium security demanding the officer in question be stood down and a formal apology issued, an exchange that triggered a vicious response.

Bangladesh authorities lash out at local media during a lunch break protest // Getty

Around 30 journalists, photographers and camera operators were set upon with fists, cane lathis and rifle butts at which point they surged the length of the field to seek refuge in the stadium's tiny umpires' room where stunned match officials and ICC referee Jeff Crowe were taking lunch.

With at least 10 of their number injured – including one transported to hospital unconscious and another who sustained serious head injuries and was airlifted to Dhaka in a coma – the Bangladeshi media voted en masse to boycott the remainder of the Test, and held true to their pledge.

Half an hour after the delayed resumption, on-field relations became equally combative when the Australians believed Bangladesh batsman Aftab Ahmed had squeezed a ball from Warne on to his foot from where it ballooned to Gilchrist.

But after a lengthy video review and signals from the dressing room where the television evidence being studied suggested it was a clean catch, the message came back to South Africa umpire Ian Howell that it wasn't out, at which point Ponting lost his rag.

The Australians wait for a third umpire decision in Chittagong // Getty

He angrily confronted Howell jabbing his finger and demanding a review of the review, a plea that was contrary to the playing conditions but was taken up by Howell who then waited a further four minutes for the new examination to eventually overturn the earlier decision.

The unseemly process that ultimately sent Aftab on his way angered the Bangladesh team management to the extent they lodged a formal complaint against Ponting's behaviour and the skipper was subsequently fined 25 per cent of his match fee.

It was against this tumultuous backdrop that Ponting – as he returned to the dressing rooms having seen Bangladesh bowled out for 196 an hour after tea on day one – told Gillespie that rather than hitting the showers and kicking back with his fellow bowlers, he was to strap on the pads lest a wicket fall before stumps.

Which it did, when Matthew Hayden holed out to long-on half an hour from the day's close.

Gillespie (right) took 3-11 in five overs in Bangladesh's first innings // Getty

"He (Ponting) just felt that – even though he was one of the best batsmen in the world – this Bangladesh attack posed too many threats and asked if I could do his job for him at number three," Gillespie likes to recount in what is the preamble to his favourite post-cricket anecdote.

"When your captain says he doesn't fancy it and wants you to do his job, you just nod and say 'yes skip, no problem. I will step up and do your job'."

This story was first published in April last year on the tenth anniversary of 2006 Chittagong Test. Part II will be published on Sunday August 13.

Australia in Bangladesh 2017

Australia squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Ashton Agar, Jackson Bird, Hilton Cartwright, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Renshaw, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade.

Bangladesh squad (preliminary): Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Soumya Sarkar, Mushfiqur Rahim, Shakib Al Hasan, Sabbir Rahman, Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, Mahmudullah Riyad, Liton Kumar Das, Mominul Haque, Mehedi Hasan, Taijul Islam, Mustafizur Rahman, Taskin Ahmed, Subhashish Roy, Kamrul Islam Rabbi, Rubel Hossain, Nurul Hasan, Sanjamul Islam, Mosaddek Hossain Saikat, Mohammad Saifuddin, Anamul Haque, Abul Hasan Raju, Al Amin Hossain, Nasir Hossain, Muktar Ali, Tanbir Haider, Saqlain Sajib, Shafiul Islam.

11-17 August Australia pre-tour training camp, Darwin

18 August Australia arrive

22-23 August Tour match,Fatullah

27-31 August First Test, Dhaka

4-8 September Second Test, Chittagong