Alagappan Muthu (ESPNcricinfo)
Bowl straight, enlist the assistance the pitch was eager to provide, prey on the batsman’s uncertainty. Repeat. Taijul Islam’s strategy was simple and his execution was ruthless enough to give him the best bowling figures in Bangladesh history.
His 8 for 39 should have heralded a dominant victory, but familiar failings were exposed in the batting and Taijul found himself in the middle again, at No. 9, striking the winning boundary to overhaul a target of 101.
Whatever joy Bangladesh had earned from a disciplined bowling performance evaporated when their top three bagged ducks – an event that has happened only twice before in Tests – and the score read 0 for 3. Zimbabwe took a punt and gave Elton Chigumbura the new ball, hoping to exploit a two-paced surface and gloomy overhead conditions, and he delivered. All of his four wickets were timely and furthered very real hopes of an unlikely victory.
The hosts were 82 for 7, battling disconcerting bounce, but Mushfiqur Rahim knew the target was small enough to scrape across. As calm as he kept himself, he also ensured Taijul did not feel the immense pressure Zimbabwe’s bowlers and their close-in fielders were creating and took Bangladesh home to break a 12-match losing streak across all formats of cricket. It was also their first win against a Full Member in 2014, the only other victories in the year having come in T20 internationals against Nepal and Afghanistan.
Although they haven’t had many matches on their docket recently, a newish Zimbabwe side has showed admirable fight. They shocked Australia during a home tri-series in August, caused a South Africa collapse two days earlier and benefited from the same scrappy, collective effort to have Bangladesh sweating.
Bangladesh never looked sure of themselves in the chase. Bounce and seam undid Tamim Iqbal, driving on the up cost Mominul Haque and Shamsur Rahman dragged a wide Tinashe Panyangara delivery onto his stumps.
Further chances were created when Mahmudullah and Shakib Al Hasan were new at the crease. Both players left their bats hanging outside off and were reprieved at gully in the space of eight balls. The offender, John Nyumbu, was whisked away to a different part of the ground and bowled only one over. Brendan Taylor preferred using his quicks and as the new ball’s shine began wearing off, the batsmen began settling.
So Shakib was battered with a few short balls. With just enough uncertainty creeping back into the batsman’s game, Tendai Chatara jerked a back of a length delivery away to claim Shakib’s outside edge and Nyumbu displayed better catching skills at second slip and the score limped to 46 for 4.
Chigumbura, who was the reason for Australia’s humiliation, induced Mahmudullah to drag a slower ball onto his stumps for 28. He combined with Regis Chakabva, the wicketkeeper, to get rid of Shuvagata Hom to usher the Bangladesh tail in with victory still a sizeable 39 runs away. Then came another telling blow – a pulled six from No. 8 Shahadat Hossain – that redressed the balance somewhat. Mushfiqur stowed his shots away, unless he was presented with the poorest of deliveries, and his 63-ball stay proved the difference.
If Bangladesh’s nemesis was pace, Zimbabwe’s was the lack of it. Nine of the visitors’ batsmen were spun out and the day’s wicket tally stood at 17. Taylor played as late as possible against the spitting and turning ball, compiling 45 off 60 balls. But the other end was a revolving door of batsmen.
“Bang Bang, here lads,” Mushfiqur had cheered and Vusi Sibanda became a victim of Taijul’s flight and turn, while Hamilton Masakadza shouldered arms to an indipper from Shahadat to lose his off stump.
Zimbabwe managed a brief flurry with Sikandar Raza, who realised mere survival was becoming impossible. He charged down the track and hammered two impressive sixes in the 18th over against Taijul. But the hat-trick was too tempting, especially when another tossed up delivery came at him. This time though, Raza could only skew a tame catch to a deepish point.
Mushfiqur sensed further opportunities. “Sixty for five, boys,” was the next demand and Taijul bettered it with a double-wicket maiden that left Zimbabwe 58 for 5. Chakabva, hiked up to open, went at a flighted delivery with hard hands – a symptom several of his team-mates displayed as well – and was caught at slip to end a 51-ball vigil. Although his patience was commendable, it also meant Bangladesh were allowed to pile on dot balls and scare the batsmen with several deliveries leaping past prodding bats. Chigumbura had no such luck though as he fell second ball, caught at slip again.
“One will keep low, that’s all we need,” Mushfiqur chirped. Craig Ervine was leg before as he played around a length ball that failed to rise as much as he thought. Having got everything he had asked for, Mushfiqur snared a sharp catch to hand Shakib Al Hasan his first wicket and a battered Zimbabwe went into lunch at 94 for 7 and folded for 114 soon after. The result had seemed a foregone conclusion then, and the same one eventually came to pass, but the ride was far more nerve-racking.