This day, on their return to Test cricket after a six-year hiatus, their current openers also recorded a century partnership, and their score at the close was an unexpected, to most people, 264 runs for two wickets.
All four Zimbabwe batsmen on display during the day batted very creditably, with pride of place going to Hamilton Masakadza. More than ten years after his superb first Test century, on his debut at the age of 17, he is close to his second, finishing the day unbeaten with 88. His innings has so far been chanceless and full of the quiet assurance and confidence that are the hallmark of Masakadza at his best. It was a marvellous sight for a crowd that grew to several hundred during the afternoon and showed great enthusiasm for their team – certainly good support on a midweek day at a Test match in Zimbabwe.
Bangladesh put Zimbabwe in to bat on winning the toss, no doubt aware that if the pitch at Harare Sports Club gives any help to the bowlers, it is invariably on the first morning. Zimbabwe, despite their six-year absence from Test cricket, played only four debutants: batsmen Tino Mawoyo and Craig Ervine, and seam bowlers Kyle Jarvis and Brian Vitori, the latter left-handed. It was Mawoyo who opened the batting with Vusi Sibanda, taking first ball on Zimbabwe’s long anticipated return to Test cricket.
Mawoyo played his first over, from Shafiul Islam, confidently but without beating the field. In the next over, from Robiul Islam, came one of those incidents that change the course of a match. Sibanda survived a fairly close lbw appeal, while Mawoyo came racing down the pitch for a leg-bye, eager to get the team total moving. Sibanda was unprepared, and Mawoyo should have been run out by most of the length of the pitch. Unlike many players in such a position, however, he tried to get back, and this caused the fielder to panic and hurl the ball wildly at the stumps, when a lob to the bowler would have done the job. The result was that the batsman escaped and the Zimbabwe score was under way with four overthrows.
Mawoyo himself got moving with three fours in an over from the inconsistent Robiul Islam, but the batsmen generally chose to leave many deliveries from the Bangladesh seamers, who failed to apply enough pressure or take proper advantage of a little early life and movement. Now and then they bowled a superb delivery, beating the bat seriously on occasions, but they often strayed in line and length. Sibanda also hit two boundaries in an over, a straight drive and pull off Rubel Hossain, and the fifty came up in the twelfth over. Spin now came on at both ends, but the batsmen continued to play watchful, sensible cricket and kept the score moving.
The hundred partnership came up before lunch, considerably quicker than that of 1992. Sibanda reached his fifty, his best in three previous Tests having been 18. He had faced more deliveries (101) than Mawoyo, who immediately lost concentration and threw his wicket away five minutes before the interval, slashing a short wide ball from Hossain to deep backward point. He had made 43 off 76 balls, a mature responsible innings marred only by its ending. Zimbabwe went in to lunch without addition on 102 for one.
Soon after lunch another chance went down for Bangladesh, as Sibanda slashed at a ball outside the off stump and first slip was unable to hold it. Masakadza struggled for a while to get off the mark, but then settled in to play a sound innings. Soon both batsmen were working the ball around the field skilfully, rarely troubled by the five-man attack. Sibanda drove a ball from Abdur Razzak for six, but then had less luck with another slash outside the off stump, being caught at the wicket off Hossain for a fine 78. For a batsman who is not a natural opener, he had done a fine job in blunting the attack and laying a good foundation, and it was a pity he could not see the job through to play a really major innings.
The batsmen seemed to have targeted Razzak as the danger man, as they always looked to dominate him, and Masakadza also drove him over long-on for six. Brendan Taylor was now his partner, and he too made a slow start, taking almost half an hour over his first four runs. Zimbabwe went in to tea at 191 for two.
The final session saw the batsmen seeking to consolidate and ensure there was no late-afternoon collapse, as happened to them regularly against Australia A. There was a narrow escape for Taylor when he was on 15, as a slash brought about a thick edge that just cleared the leaping wicketkeeper. The weary Bangladesh fielders misfielded several times, but the batsmen did not really take advantage of a wearying attack: survival and accumulation were top of the agenda, and in this they succeeded. To their credit Bangladesh maintained what is in modern cricket regarded as a ‘good’ over rate, managing 91 overs in the six hours’ play.