Bangladesh vs. Zimbabwe preview - a Bangladeshi perspective
by Sohel N. Rahman
The Zimbabwe of the Flower brothers, Heath Streak and fan favorite Henry Olonga were a far better side than Bangladesh not so long ago. Then a series of egregious events almost took their cricket to the brink of oblivion. The once menacing side in red, black, gold and green found itself depleted of some key players and forced to field a group of young and inexperienced cricketers.
Bangladesh faced that depleted side and won without too much difficulty, especially in Bangladesh. Batsmen like Shahriar Nafees Ahmed and to a lesser extent, Shakib Al Hasan, young cricketers themselves, dominated the Africans with their bats, and Al Hasan with pacer spearhead Mashrafe Bin Mortaza matched Nafees Ahmed with the ball.
But like the tenacious people of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwean cricket continued to battle through immense challenges, survived, and kept the hope of eventual resurrection alive in the process. Since then, within a very short period of time, those young players grew together as a cohesive unit, and as individual cricketers.
The Zimbabwe Bangladesh will be facing the next several weeks are a significantly better side than they were in 2006 and 2007, and offer some wonderfully competitive cricket in their own backyard after a good domestic season.
On paper, Bangladesh are the favorites having Banglawashed a hastily put together West Indian side 2-0 and 3-0 in the recently concluded Test and ODI series in the Caribbean. The reality however, is more complex as always.
Ashraful is always a threat
Bangladesh have a perceived advantage in its seamers, but with pace spearhead Mortaza out of the team with a re-aggravated knee injury -- veteran Syed Rasel, young slinger Rubel Hossain, Mahbubul Alam and Nazmul Hossain must provide the early breakthrough Mortaza could be counted upon. Time will tell whether or not they can fill those big shoes, but until and unless they do, that advantage remains on paper only.
The intelligent Rasel needs to strike early, bowling as tightly as possible for 10 straight overs, and surprising the Africans with a bit of effective swing when least expected. Young Rubel Hossain, known as the Royal Bengal Express to his fans, must find his rhythm early, temper his pace with accuracy, swing the ball both ways and reverse, bowl full and wicket to wicket, and script his short, skidding delivery as the intimidating and effective weapon it can be. The one dimensional Alam, if used, must try to vary his length intelligently and sustain his usually impressive start well beyond the usual three overs, and Nazmul Hossain, if used, must try and not damage his side too much with his lack of ability.
Ed Rainsford and Tawanda Mupawira are fundamentally better than the likes of Chris Mpofu, and continue to improve the weapons at their disposal. Assisted by familiar conditions at the Queens Sports Club, both can give error prone Bangladeshi batters a good run for their money with all-rounder Elton Chigumbura adding more fuel to that fire.
Evenly matched in the pace department, Iâ€™d say, with only Rubel Hossain having the potential to tilt the balance in Bangladeshâ€™s favor.
Zimbabwe also have disciplined slow bowlers in Ray Price, Skipper Prosper Utseya, and Graeme Cremer with Sean Williams and Mark Vermeulen capable of contributing with key transition overs. Add excellent fielding to all that, and Bangladesh are not likely to have an easy time in Bulawayo, no doubt offering more than adequate assistant to Zimbabwean spinners as well. Bangladeshi batters must display excellent unit cohesion of their own and avoid the all too familiar set of unforced errors in order to face down and overcome the threat.
Having said that, Bangladeshi slow bowlers have also improved leaps and bounds. Skipper Shakib Al Hasan has quickly evolved from an effective containment bowler suited to the batter-friendly shorter formats to a genuine strike bowler capable of turn, zip, brilliant scripting of effective variations, and utilizing whatever drift offered by the conditions at hand. Enamul Haque, replacing injured, out of sorts, and twice busted slow left armer Abdur Razzak, will add considerable strength to his venom if he can take this opportunity with both hands and carry his recent form over to Zimbabwe as well. Tagged a â€œtest specialistâ€ and out of International cricket for far too long before his recent comeback, Haque is better than ever and will stifle and pressure Zimbabwean batters.
In addition to Haque, off-breaking all-rounders Mohammad Mahmudullah and Nayeem Islam have also evolved into quality slow bowlers with abilities of their own. At their best, the variety they bring to the table will push Zimbabwe to the limit.
With the bat, Zimbabwe may have a slight advantage due in no small part, to the trademark inconsistency of their Asian counterpart in the department. Depending on how they manage to deal with Al Hasan and his young bowlers, elegant openers Mark Vermeulen and Vusi Sibanda, classy Hamilton Masakadza and Sean Williams, marauding Elton Chigumbura down the order, and the balanced Brendan Taylor, if available, are all capable of posting impressive scores. Then thereâ€™s the possible threat of an in form Stuart Matsikenyeri, and an additional bonus from Chamu Chibhabha given the chance.
On the other hand, openers Tamim Iqbal and Junaid Siddique, Skipper Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Nayeem Islam, and the enigmatic former Skipper Mohammad Ashraful Motin are easily capable of doing the same for Bangladesh if they manage to play sensibly, execute their designated roles, and balance their habitually extravagant strokeplay with available singles and twos in order to keep pressure at bay.
Motin in particular has yet another opportunity to match his considerable natural talent with the sort of cricketing intelligence and maturity rarely seen from him in the middle. Raqibul Hasan, with all of his limitations, needs to get back to his straight-bat-in-the-V and restrain himself from playing uncharacteristically fancy shots heâ€™s simply not ready play at this level. Relying on Lady Luck should be a welcome exception, not the norm. Unremarkable but adequate batting is precisely what is needed from Raqibul Hasan, and for his own sake, he better stick to what he used to do best.
If push comes to shove, expect talented, compact and relatively inexperienced opener Imrul Kayes to open with Iqbal, Siddique moving down a place, and Motin replacing Raqibul at number four. Then again, in light of Motinâ€™s cavalier refusal to be what he can be, Hasan may end up staying put instead.
Fielding wise, always a more critical component in the shorter versions of the sport, the sides can also be evenly matched assuming that Bangladeshi fielders perform at their very best and sustain that performance throughout the series. The departure Abdur Razzak, easily one of the worst fielders in International cricket, increases the odds for them to do just that. Wicket keeping wise, Bangladesh can only hope for a smaller number of blunders from the diminutive and obnoxiously loud Rahim, essential with the bat but always suspect behind the stumps. Luckily for Rahim, and sadly for cricket fans everywhere, Tatenda Taibu wonâ€™t feature in this series as Zimbabweâ€™s keeper to underline his lack of class in that position.
In conclusion, we can safely look forward to one heck of an ODI series from August 9th to the 16th. Shakib Al Hasan would be expected to demonstrate his teamâ€™s ability to learn from the West Indian triumph, not get carried away by delusions of decisive superiority over their African hosts, and do better. Zimbabwe, after a six month sabbatical from International cricket, would be eager to prove themselves at home. Easy recipe for this nascent rivalry evolve and grow in intensity as the young players from both sides continue to get better with experience.