First Test Match, at Harare Sports Club, Day 1
Overnight: Zimbabwe (217/4) v Bangladesh.
After their tribulations in the West Indies, Zimbabwe will be quite relieved at having finished the opening day of their two-match Test series against Bangladesh with a score of 217 for four wickets. Their batsmen showed considerable spirit in overcoming conditions that certainly favoured the bowlers early in the day, with Robiul Islam in particular turning in a superb bowling spell in the morning. Zimbabwe’s main hero was their captain, Brendan Taylor, who recorded his third Test century, an innings of determination and character, and was still there with 105 at the close.
Zimbabwe obviously wanted to make the best use of home advantage and provide their opponents with the most awkward conditions they could get away with – in the knowledge, of course, that were the match being played in Bangladesh, the pitch would be a paradise for the local spinners. So the pitch had a strong green colour to it, and Bangladesh no doubt considered themselves fortunate to win the toss and avoid batting first, despite the beautiful sunny weather. They exuded rare confidence as they took the field and prepared their assault on the Zimbabwean batsmen.
There were five changes in the Zimbabwe team from that which was humiliated in the Second Test against West Indies. Tino Mawoyo was injured and Craig Ervine rejected his winter contract, while Sean Williams, Prosper Utseya and Tendai Chatara were all dropped. Replacing them, and reflecting the strong influence of the former Mountaineers and current acting Zimbabwe coach Stephen Mangongo, were the restored Elton Chigumbura, Shingi Masakadza and three debutants in Richie Mutumbami (wicketkeeper), Keegan Meth and Timmy Maruma.
Maruma, virtually unheard of as an opening batsman, was sent in to start the Zimbabwe innings with Vusi Sibanda, a remarkable gamble by Mangongo – but the coach does know his man well. It nearly backfired, as Maruma was missed low at first slip off Robiul Islam off the sixth ball of the match. Who can tell what might have happened were this crucial catch held? With the pitch yielding bounce and movement, the batsmen struggled for survival against Islam in particular, while Rubel Hossain was also difficult but tended to pitch too short. There were some frenetic appeals, but the batsmen, although very slow, were putting all their efforts into survival while the pitch was at its most difficult.
Sibanda made 5, superbly yorked by Islam – for once he was out to a good ball rather than a foolish shot – and Maruma was lbw for 10, so at 22 for two in the 15th over it appeared that the opening pair had failed. This would be a harsh verdict, as they held on for long enough in very testing circumstances, and their respective times of 37 and 71 minutes showed that in fact they did a very important job in staying there until the pitch had eased, Islam had tired and the middle order could come in under better conditions. Make no mistake, these were two innings small in number but great in value.
At lunch Zimbabwe were 50 for two, with Brendan Taylor having got off the mark by hitting a ball from Enamul Haque over long-on for six. After the interval Hamilton Masakadza, who was looking well settled, edged Haque to slip for 25; 65 for three. Both Haque and the off-spinner Sohag Gazi were finding the pitch also took turn, so batting was never easy. Malcolm Waller started his innings in enterprising fashion and the tension slowly began to ease as he and his captain settled in. Taylor reached his fifty off 123 balls, but Bangladesh did miss a couple of sharp chances. At tea Zimbabwe were 121 for three.
The pair continued to bat steadily in the final session, the accent being on steady accumulation rather than attempted domination, well-placed singles rather than boundaries. The century partnership was passed, and then Waller reached his fifty off 119 balls. Taylor by now was on 85 and the second new ball was almost due. This was to do the trick for Bangladesh, as this time Rubel Hossain got in on the act, moving the ball back in to Waller and knocking back his off stump for 55. The pair had added 127 runs, a vital partnership for Zimbabwe, and the score was now 192 for four.
It took Taylor only a few minutes to race through the nineties and reach his century, which took him exactly 200 balls. He did so with a two and a four, both through the covers, off Robiul Islam, who was looking quite innocuous now, apart from the odd ‘jaffa’. Chigumbura then had a stroke of luck, yorked by a fine delivery from Hossain for 5, only to have the decision overturned when an umpire’s check confirmed that this was a no-ball.
This was the last real incident of a day which, overall, belonged rather more to Zimbabwe after an unpromising start. The most vital factor in this match now will probably be how the Bangladeshi batsmen handle the Zimbabwe seam bowlers in conditions prepared to favour the latter.