WITH no rain fears in Zimbabwe during this time of this year, two outcomes are possible at the Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo by end of day.
Either Bangladesh will take an unassailable three nil lead in the five-match ODI series or Zimbabwe will pull one back to leave the series at 2-1 going into the last two matches on Sunday and Tuesday.
The Asians are 2-0 up, settling in the driving seat on Tuesday after stand-in captain Shakib Al Hasanâ€™s century inspired them to a 49-run victory following Sundayâ€™s opening eight wicket thumping win.
Before the series there was general consensus that this Zimbabwe side was the best the country has assembled in four to five years since a detrimental desertion by 15 senior players over a selection dispute.
Â So what has really gone wrong?
Â Match-situation fitness
Zimbabwe last played in a series against Kenya in February, emerging comprehensive 5-0 victors. If one wants to overlook the east Africans on the basis of cricket pedigree, it leaves us with the tri-series involving Zim, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and then a series with the Bangladeshis in January as the Zimbabweansâ€™ last competitive engagement.
While Bangladesh went on to play in series after series, their last before heading to these shores being a historic Test and ODI series win in West Indies, Zimbabwe were spending time feeling sorry for themselves over New Zealandâ€™s politically motivated cancelation of their scheduled July tour here, and India decision to give their players rest instead of travelling to Zimbabwe in August. The lack of genuine game time has taken a marked toll on the Zimbabwe team.
No player has carried the team on his shoulders. In the first ODI on Sunday, Mark Vermeulen was the closest to doing that on his return to international cricket with a solid 92, but he run himself out at the crucial moment. Â
With wickets tumbling around him, his partnership with Elton Chigumbura was Zimbabweâ€™s last hope to set a competitive total. These two needed to bat through the innings. In the second match on Tuesday, Sean Williams and Charles Coventry played good knocks. They did well to boost their personal stats but they both couldnâ€™t execute their form to the greater need of the team, like Vermeulen and Chigumbura before them.
Therein lies the difference between the two sides. Not only did centuries by Mohammad Ashraful and Shakib Al Hasan in the first and second matches respectively help swell Bangladeshâ€™s scores, they also helped build partnerships and rally the other batsmen around them.
Â Cricket is a momentum game, and someone who gets into the 70s or so, thus becoming the key man, must feel responsible for defeat more than someone who went out for a duck before any real hope was invested in him. When in form, one has to stay in form for it to have real meaning.
Bangladeshâ€™s frontline bowlers have given them good starts with basic but effective pace bowling upfront. Queens has responded well as a batting track, and these two have done sufficiently well to maintain tight lines and lengths and also moving the ball in the air both ways. In comparison, Zimbabwe is still to establish a new ball pair well into the series. Do we now have a strike bowler crisis in this country?
Yes, Elton Chigumbura has decent pace and can extract good bounce on a receptive pitch, but he has lacked the breakthroughs, not to mention the astonishing experiment with Chamu Chibhabha as an opening bowler for the first match. Chibhabha was replaced by Eddie Rainsford upfront on Tuesday. Rainsford struggled early on but got his act together in his second spell.
Â All the same, the bowling has lacked rhythm and penetration to bother an international batting lineup, and Bangladesh have gone about their business with worrying ease in the series so far.
Do the players really want it? Do they understand whatâ€™s at stake? These are questions open for debate.
Is Prosper Utseya doing a good job? His body language on the field doesnâ€™t suggest so, yet he is said to have a few choice words in the changing room. He is obviously a good player and team man, but his leadership is something that could come under review.
Stuart Matsikenyeri and Ray Price, two of the most experienced players in the side, dropped Al Hasan on 67 and 70 respectively, paving way for Bangladeshâ€™s stand-in captain to get a match-winning century in the second one-dayer.
That Zimbabwe is getting little value from its experienced players is a notion that is commonly shared, and on Tuesday these two incidents really put things into perspective.
Enock Muchinjo in Bulawayo