By Enock Muchinjo
THE first Test between Zimbabwe and Bangladesh started yesterday in Dhaka with the youthful Zimbabwe side hoping to finally show the world that they are not a team based on potential alone,
but one which can also win matches.
Zimbabwe are playing with a psychological advantage over Bangladesh who they have dominated in the four matches they have played since the Asians’ inception into the Test arena four years ago.
Zimbabwe now have a new team that is still to win a match since being put into the international limelight in April. After losing to Sri Lanka by wide margins in their last Test series, Zimbabwe suspended their remaining four Test matches for the year 2004 as they hoped to avail the young team enough time to mature for the longer version of the game. If that break from Test cricket did bear any results then the matches against Bangladesh provide the best opportunity to prove it.
The Bangladesh-Zimbabwe series is a watershed in both teams’ Test histories whereby the whole cricket world’s eyes are upon them. Defeat for one will mean their critics will be on their case once more, with their Test-worthiness being severely questioned.
Bangladesh have not won in 35 Test attempts. At one time pressure was brought to bear on the International Cricket Council to revise the Asians’ Test status. Zimbabwe also fell under the same scrutiny when former captain Heath Streak and his fellow dissenting players walked out on the team, resulting in an impasse.
Zimbabwe have what it takes to win the series if their performance against the Bangladesh Cricket Board XI in a three-day warm-up match earlier this week is anything to go by. The batsmen in particular were in top form, with the increasingly dependable Stuart Matsikenyeri leading the way with a well-played 150 runs at the top of the order. Matsikenyeri has of late come on well as a bowler too, and his two wickets with his off-break in the warm-up match was just a sign of what he is capable of achieving in this series.
Number three batsman Vusumuzi Sibanda was the other centurion in the warm-up match (122 runs) after going to the sub-continent as a late replacement for Mark Vermeulen. The runs should come as a morale-booster for Sibanda, who sat out the rest of the one-day international tour to Zimbabwe by England after a subdued game in the first match. The longer version of the game will give him a chance to settle at the crease and play his shots with more confidence and with less pressure on him having not been in the original side.
Hamilton Masakadza looked in good shape too as he hopes to make a sound comeback to Test cricket. He was just eight runs away from becoming Zimbabwe’s third centurion.
Zimbabwe coach Phil Simmons and his technical team showed indications of reshuffling the batting order, with opener Brendan Taylor dropping down to number five against BCB XI and debutant Barney Rogers coming in to open with Matsikenyeri. Rogers showed a lot of promise as a one-day opener against the Bangladeshis in a home series back in March and his 44 runs in the warm-up this week is sign that he can also turn out to be good Test opener.
The sub-continent conditions have always been a haven for spin bowlers. The pitches in Bangladesh will be as usual expected to turn and Zimbabwe’s only left-arm slow bowler, the uncapped Graeme Cremer, should fancy his chances of taking good wickets with the help of the pitch.
The withdrawal of medium pace bowler Edward Rainsford from the series due to a back injury will be a setback for Zimbabwe, as Rainsford is arguably the best bowler in the team at the moment. His accuracy and swing would have provided few anxious moments for Bangladesh. The remaining seamers — Douglas Hondo, debutant Christopher Mpofu and back-ups Elton Chigumbura and Mluleki Nkala — will have to give something for the spinners to bowl on later on.
All in all it is adding up to a testing Test series for the touring Zimbabwe and hosts Bangladesh.