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‘A tough place to tour’

TEN months after playing their last Test match — a damp squib against South Africa last December — Zimbabwe arrived in Bangladesh this week and, although three ODIs will open the tour, no doubt the visitors’ skills in the longer version will come under deeper scrutiny on a trip former Zimbabwe chief selector Alistair Campbell expects a serious “trial-by-spin” from the hosts.

By Enock Muchinjo

Incredibly, and it is a subject that will revive debate, the two-match series is all Zimbabwe will play in the five-day format throughout the whole calendar year, an uphill task for a team on a losing streak and struggling for some kind of rhythm.

“It’s going to be really tough,” Campbell told IndependentSport. “I mean, they have the three one-dayers before the Tests and they (Zimbabwe) are coming from South Africa with a bit of white-ball practice. However, it’s different conditions. We have struggled in Bangladesh against the left-arm spin, struggling to be positive against them, to score against them. It has always been the Achilles’ heel. So I see much of the same, to be honest. They haven’t played (Test cricket) for a long time.”

Exactly four years ago, the last Test series between the two bottom-of-the-table rivals, Zimbabwe left Bangladesh heavily bruised and battered after the Asian side romped to a 3-0 series whitewash, with spin-tailored wickets causing Zimbabwe all sorts of trouble.

“They will play in Dhaka, and also Sylhet (International Cricket Stadium) is a new ground for me, I have not been there before. But I expect the wicket to be the same,” Campbell said. “They (Bangladesh) are going to prepare them to be very spin friendly. They are going to play three or four spinners and just have a go at Zimbabwe. They know the weaknesses (of Zimbabwe), they’ve done their planning and it’s just going to be trial-by-spin.”

The former Zimbabwe captain, now an established broadcaster around the world, has called on the team to combat Bangladesh’s spin threat by playing freely throughout the series.

“The only way out for Zimbabwe, really, is to be positive,” Campbell said. “If you just stand at your crease and sit there and try defend and be negative, I think that is not the way to play. The guys have to go out there and try to be positive. That is trying to use their feet, not afraid to sweep, take the attack to the spinners and try to get a result. I think it’s a positive method. They did that in Sri Lanka (where Zimbabwe stunned the hosts 3-2 in the ODI series in 2017) for a while. Yes, it was one-day cricket, but they took that into the Test match as well. Particularly Sikandar Raza, who played really well using his feet. So they must take a leaf out of his book and obviously try to be a bit more positive. That’s the only way to try force a result or to do better than trying to block out, playing negatively and hope you are going to get a bad ball that you can put away.

“It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be no different to many other tours that they have gone there. Make no mistake, there is a lot of the better teams that have gone there in the past and they have come away leaking their wounds, including Australia and England. So it’s a tough place to tour. They are a much improved side, we know that, they know how to win at home. They know what brand of cricket to play at home. It’s going to be an uphill task for Zimbabwe but, like I said, I just hope they show some positivity. Just take the attack to them a little more. Just try to reverse the pressure somewhat because that is the only way, if any, that they are going to cause an upset and get a result.”

Campbell is hopeful that the return of star batsman Brendan Taylor and pace spearhead Kyle Jarvis to full Test commitments can give Zimbabwe a fighting chance. Both players, upon returning to Zimbabwe from the county cricket circuit, featured in the experimental four-day night Test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth, in which the Proteas crushed the Zimbabweans by an innings and 120 runs inside two days.

Taylor and Jarvis, according to Campbell, bring good experience in the longer version.

“They have played lots of county cricket, lots of four-day cricket,” Campbell said. “They will know the ebbs and flows of the red-ball game. But playing in Bangladesh, playing spin for long periods of time, is going to be a big task. Taylor is very adept at playing spin. He can sweep, he can reverse sweep, so I’m sure he will back himself against the left-arm spin to hang in there and to score a few runs.”

Asian teams increasingly put their spin threat to greater use against visiting sides these days, and touring sides look up more and more to their pace attack to make headway. Jarvis, with the likes of Tendai Chatara, Donald Tiripano and Richard Ngarava must be at their best to get something out of the wicket.

“It’s a graveyard really for seamers,” Campbell said. “You have to be very patient, get the ball in the right areas, bowl wicket-to-wicket, and be as attacking as you can be. But it is tough work, particularly with the conditions being hot and humid to a fast bowler. So there is a job to be done for the fast bowlers. But I just think on those pitches they are going to prepare, Zimbabwe’s spinners are going to play a part in forcing a result.”
With Graeme Cremer missing through injury, the much-hyped 21-year-old newcomer Brandon Mavuta should, on Test debut, shoulder the burden of the spin-attack.
“I haven’t seen him bowl too much,” Campbell said of the young leg-spinner. “But from what I saw in South Africa, I think he is a huge prospect going forward. I mean, there is lots of different things he is going to have to learn. The tempo of Test match cricket is vastly different from one-day cricket; giving it more air, trying to spin it a bit more, setting batsmen up, that sort of thing. But I think he will enjoy bowling in Bangladesh. It is spin-friendly, and he has to get the pace of the wicket pretty quickly.

“I’m sure he will get a lot of guidance that way. Just a pity that Cremer is not on the tour because that will be a great mentoring process for him and feeding off Cremer’s skills and what-not, learning from one of Zimbabwe’s best.

I think he will do pretty well and I hope he will be handled well. I hope (captain) Hamilton (Masakadza) will handle him properly and bowls him in for longer spells, knowing full well that he might be targeted on occasion, and back him: back him with good fields and longer spells. He is a young guy with plenty of confidence and I think he should do well.”

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