GuBulawayo means 'place of slaughter' in the local language. Now I know why they
don't call it the Bulawayo Stadium and I certainly prefer the more sedate "Queens
Sports club". Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo, which is our next test venue,
has worked hard to make itself a good one-day pitch but for tests the pitch has
been a quagmire. After 14 matches, the acquired wisdom is that matches in Queens
are unlikely to be high scoring, as a well-earned reputation for slow and low
pitches has gradually taken shape. That said, Bulawayo could actually claim some
magnificent landmarks. Ever since 1994, when Zimbabwe hosted Sri Lanka, it has
been a safe haven for some good home performances. She has witnessed its share
of great moments, the most notable perhaps being the gruesome test against England
in 1996-97. Zimbabwe's defensive bowling tactics worked as England was
made to chase 205 from 37 overs to win the match. The Zimbabweans were bowling
down the leg side and the English just failed in their bid. So Queens has been
generous as to allow the weaker team to play defensively.
Dave Houghton, one of their preeminent batsmen of the day, made the highest
individual score at Queen's when he hit 266 against Sri Lanka in 1994-95.
Atapattu also returned the favour by scoring 216 five years later. Guy Whittall's
203 not out against New Zealand in 1997-98 is the other double-century scored
there. Two leg-spinners, Adam Huckle and Paul Strang, have both taken ten wickets
in a match at Queen's. In terms of hostile fast bowling, the medal goes
to Wasim Akram in 1994-95 when his second-innings five for 43, on a difficult
pitch, set Pakistan up for a win. Bulawayo has yet to reveal itself as a true
spin pitch but there are small glimpses of evidence that the spinners have
an advantage over pacers. It is also the ground where Price has shined consistently.
This is good news for Rafique and I am expecting some crackers from him. The
bad news is that Price would want a slice of the same pie.
So have we actually focused on the Queens pitch for the selection for the
first test? Looking at the ground records and selecting a team specifically
for this test could present us with some insights! Had they done so the team
would have looked slightly different? A small disclaimer though. At the end
of the day history and previous ground stats are interesting but it rests on
individuals to prove that those stats are just an academic exercise. Having
said that, certain thoughts could be pondered:
- In Bulawayo, when did a spinner last win a match for any team?
- What kind of bowler wins the most tests at Bulawayo? A seamer, a swinger, a
spinner or fast bowler?
- Does pacers take wickets or are clever bowlers with variation more successful
- Does the pitch last for 5 days or does it self-destruct?
- Does the ball swing when it is overcast as it probably did in Harare?
- Is it a good batting strip?
- Does the pitch take spin?
Looking at the last match played at Queens we can deduce that the pitch does
take spin. In the Zimbabwe v West Indies match Price was certainly the thorn
causing all sorts of trouble for the windies. The match also illustrated the
best defence against that sort of bowling which was exemplified by Lara's
191 scored after facing 203 balls.
Teams have different reasons for including a spinner apart from the traditional
feeling that a test team is not complete without one. For Bangladesh the points
are pertinent too:
- To bowl long spells to give the fast men a rest.
- To tie down one end with a good economy rate.
- To take wickets, especially in the second innings.
True, on the Queens pitch any lesser spinner than Warne, Murali or Kumble
has struggled. However, after Rafique's successes in Harare we should
probe the Zimbabweans in the very department that our team might have an advantage
that is spin. Certainly we should reflect for a second, without any doubt,
how our other spinners would perform. Even though there is the added danger
of young bowler being severely punished, I believe we could take in a young
and upcoming left arm spinner like Enamul Haq jnr. to press our case.
As for the case for throwing in young players into the lion's den we
can debate on and on. What are the long-term effects of bowlers being punished,
or will they stomach it and move on? But why not pick players at a ground,
which will help him and build his confidence. At the end of the day the sincere
hope is that we are slowly bringing rationale into our selection and ending
the inconsistency that has marred our earlier outings.