Rarely have the dangers of taking a lesser-ranked opponent too lightly been more starkly exposed than in 2005 when Australia lost to Bangladesh at Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens in the opening game of their ODI tri-series played in the United Kingdom that also featured England.
Despite being the reigning World Cup champions and having completed an ODI and Test series whitewash in New Zealand earlier in the year, Australia’s team led by Ricky Ponting and which included names such as Gilchrist, McGrath, Hayden, Gillespie, Martyn, Clarke and Hussey saw their 50-over total of 249 chased down with four balls to spare.
It was a defeat remembered largely for the off-field distraction centring around Andrew Symonds that accompanied it, but it also set the tone for the Ashes Tests that followed in which Australia suffered a series defeat to England for the first time in almost 20 years.
Symonds carries the drinks after being excluded from the XI // Getty Images
Edited extract from ‘The Wrong Line’
That Andrew Symonds chose to enthusiastically celebrate Shane Watson’s twenty-fourth birthday beyond sun-up the following day could be construed as touching.
The fact that Watson and his teammates had vacated the party not long after dusk on the day of the milestone due to impending work commitments – a one-day international against Bangladesh –next morning meant it was also stunningly misguided.
The next his colleagues saw of Symonds after their celebratory dinner was en route to pre-game breakfast on that sunny Saturday morning. He stood out, and not only because he was still wearing his civilian garb of the previous night while they were uniformly kitted out in team warm-up gear.
His pose, slumped against the back wall of a lift, also indicated he was not enjoying peak fitness. He changed into his training outfit and shovelled down a greasy breakfast, but while undergoing preliminary stretching exercises at the ground, the truth leaked out.
Reeking of booze, Symonds propped his right leg on a wheelie bin to extend his hamstring and, to the bewilderment of those watching, remained utterly oblivious as the support symbolically rolled away from beneath him.
His name was hastily scratched from Australia’s team sheet, the official explanation being that he had suffered a ‘niggle’ during the warm-up.
Conspiracy theories then ran rampant through the Sophia Gardens press box when Ponting fronted international television at the coin toss to announce the problem had, in those few minutes, transmogrified into the flu.
Word also emerged from the TV commentary team, where Darren Lehmann was filling a guest role, that the truth lay closer to Symonds being well and truly leathered.
Lehmann then confirmed that he had received a drunken call from the Queenslander around 3 a.m., urging him to come out and join the Welsh wildlife.
But the ex-player wisely demurred and advised Symonds to call it a night. That counsel was ignored.
Other reports then surfaced that Symonds had been seen stumbling about outside the team’s Cardiff hotel around 6 a.m., just hours before game time.
The official story from the dressing room suddenly changed again. The allrounder was now being investigated for a breach of team rules.
Faced with the unfamiliar scenario of events spinning rapidly out of their control, the Australian brains trust showed a worrying, but ominously instructive, inability to think on their feet.
Ponting stuck to his prefabricated plan upon winning the toss and, despite the morning’s upheaval and a damp pitch rendered lively as it sweated under the Welsh sun, opted not to immediately unleash his bowlers on the under-qualified Bangladeshis.
Instead, Australia’s hastily recast line-up struggled with the bat and then, as the pitch flattened out in the heat, Bangladesh cashed in on lacklustre bowling and lamentable fielding.
Australia captain Ricky Ponting congratulates the Bangladesh batsmen // Getty Images
Unlikely cricket history was made with four balls to spare, and it wasn’t only the late-afternoon rays beating into the makeshift media conference room that generated heat in the post-match post-mortem.
Despite the airless conditions, Ponting sat ashen-faced.
He tried manfully to defend the morning’s deceptions, as well as downplay their impact on the result, and grimly promised that Symonds’ punishment would be delivered swiftly and decisively.
He had no choice. His humiliated and riven team’s next match against a disbelieving England waited barely twelve hours away, forty miles across the mouth of the Severn River, in Bristol.
This is an edited extract from Andrew Ramsey’s book ‘The Wrong Line’ published by ABC Books and which is available in paperback or e-book through the ABC Shop
Champions Trophy 2017 Guide
Squads: Every Champions Trophy nation
2 June – New Zealand v Australia, No Result
4 June – India beat Pakistan by 124 runs
5 June – Australia v Bangladesh, The Oval (D/N)
6 June – England v New Zealand, Cardiff (D)
7 June – Pakistan v South Africa, Edgbaston (D/N)
8 June – India v Sri Lanka, The Oval (D)
9 June – New Zealand v Bangladesh, Cardiff (D)
10 June – England v Australia, Edgbaston (D)
11 June – India v South Africa, The Oval (D)
12 June – Sri Lanka v Pakistan, Cardiff (D)
14 June – First semi-final (A1 v B2), Cardiff (D)
15 June – Second semi-final (A2 v B1), Edgbaston (D)
18 June – Final, The Oval (D)
19 June – Reserve day (D)