Sports desk: Australia began the day with dreams of not having to bat again on this tour. They ended it facing the possibility of a nervous fourth-innings chase in order to salvage something from the series, after failing comprehensively to make the most of the strong platform provided by David Warner and Peter Handscomb.
It was Warner’s approach to within one run of his second hundred in as many innings that brought a change to the previously strong rapport he and Handscomb had enjoyed, notwithstanding the heavy rain that washed out the entire first session. Suddenly becalmed on the edge of the milestone, Warner started off for a quick single then bellowed “no” after Handscomb had already made an instinctive start. Handscomb’s dive was not headlong enough to prevent Shakib Al Hasan’s direct hit from ending his innings at 82.
From there the innings unravelled, at first gradually and then with increasing speed. Warner made it to a fine hundred, albeit with the help of a couple of dropped chances, before he was inconvenienced then dismissed by the rejuvenated Mustafizur Rahman.
The Chittagong pitch offered just enough bounce for Mustafizur to make use of the bouncer, while at the same time gaining a modicum of reverse swing. In addition to defeating Warner and Matthew Wade – surely now set to be dropped for the Ashes due to a lack of runs – Mustafizur also had Glenn Maxwell dropped in the gully.
Shakib and Mehidy Hasan also found something from growing footholes either side of the stumps, each finding sharp-turning deliveries that not only claimed wickets but will also put questions in Australian minds. While these will also aid Nathan Lyon, he walked off with Steve O’Keefe when the light ran out in a position much inferior to the one he would have hoped for when play began.
Handscomb and Warner had taken their stand to 152 before the younger man was run-out by Shakib, in a moment that perhaps betrayed the mental toll of batting for long periods in Chittagong’s heat and humidity. Warner eventually found a way to reach the milestone, as he continued to correct a previously poor record in Test matches in Asia. But he appeared to tire after spending the entirety of the match so far in the field, and offered a half-pull shot at Mustafizur to be caught by a juggling leg gully.
Maxwell and Hilton Cartwright then formed the foundations of a positive stand, as both eyed off potentially a single position in the Australian batting order at No. 6 in the forthcoming home Ashes series. However Cartwright was beaten more than once by Mehidy’s subtle variations and snicked another such delivery to slip on the stroke of tea. This was some source of revenge for Mehidy after play was held up by his recovery from a fierce blow to his thumb and ribs when Cartwright hammered back a straight drive.
Wade’s underwhelming record with the bat since he returned to the Test side late last year has been a mounting source of concern for the selectors, to the point that they considered dropping him to use Handscomb’s part-time glovework in this match. What such a decision would have meant for Handscomb’s batting and general health – after his near collapse from dehydration on day two – can only be wondered at, but Wade was unable to make the most of the chance to build Australia’s lead, lbw to Mustafizur’s inswing despite making the most optimistic of DRS referrals.
Maxwell, too, was to find little joy from video evidence when given out upon squeezing Mehidy from bat to pad into the gloves of the diving Mushfiqur Rahim. Then, 18 runs later, Cummins padded up to the same bowler, only to find an expansively spinning offbreak had deviated far enough to be hitting the stumps according to ball-tracking. Nigel Llong’s overturned not-out verdict was made memorable by Nasir Hossain standing alongside the umpire as the pair both raised the finger, a gesture that poked fun at Cummins and will be a matter for the match referee Jeff Crowe to deliberate upon.
Not for the first time this series Ashton Agar looked among Australia’s most fluent players in Asian conditions, but in the closing overs that confidence was used against him by Shakib. First he ran down the pitch to a ball that did not turn, only to be dropped at slip, then in the closing overs, drove at the line but not the length of a delivery that pitched in the rough and spun back dramatically to flick leg stump. Agar’s face revealed his realisation of the error he had made. Several of his vanquished team-mates wore the same look.