Nafees's ton guides Bangladesh home
Bangladesh 186 for 1 (Nafees 105*, Aftab 60*) beat Zimbabwe 184 for 9 (Taylor 38, Razzak 4-33) by 9 wickets
Shahriar Nafees scored an unbeaten 105 as Bangladesh recorded an easy nine-wicket win over Zimbabwe in the first ODI at Khulna on Thursday. Nafees's century, his third consecutive ton against Zimbabwe, was part of a sound all-round performance by Bangladesh; earlier, their left-arm spin trio of Abdur Razzak, Mohammad Rafique and Saqibul Hasan restricted Zimbabwe to 184 for 9.
Though Zimbabwe had enough spinners in their ranks to put pressure on the opposition on a slow surface, they paid the price for an overly defensive approach, often allowing the batsmen to pick the gaps during the middle overs. Nafees and Aftab Ahmed, both flamboyant players, were allowed to play their natural game, leading to the familiar story of Nafees - who came into this match with a Bradmanesque-average of 92.75 in six matches - tormenting the Zimbabweans.
After a quiet start, Nafees cut loose in the eighth over, fetching three fours off Anthony Ireland. The first, a wide delivery, was smashed past point, followed by a delicate flick down fine leg. The third was by far the best of the match, effortlessly driven past mid-on and accompanied by a perfect follow-through that highlighted Nafees's form. His opening partner, Mehrab Hossain, complemented him with a sedate 13 in a stand of 72 before handing a low catch to Sean Williams. Nafees did the bulk of the scoring, rocking back and slapping the spinners past the infield, and even scooping seamer Elton Chigumbura over midwicket for a six.
Aftab, who came in next, was at his aggressive best, though his start wasn't as convincing; he played a few streaky strokes, at one stage nearly spooning a catch to the close-in fielders. But he soon came into his own, charging Ryan Higgins for a six over long on and launching Chigumbura over deep cover, stepping down the track against a delivery just short of a good length. Nafees ensured that he stayed at the wicket, pulling the odd loose ball from the spinners and picking up the singles. He reached his ton with a single to deep point while his side was on the brink of victory.
The win was fashioned by Bangladesh's three-pronged left-arm spin attack, who shared eight wickets. The attack may have lacked variety, but their relentless stump-to-stump line restricted Zimbabwe to a modest 184, undoing a breezy opening stand of 52 between Brendan Taylor and Stuart Matsikenyeri, who looked at ease against the seamers.
The introduction of the spinners pegged Zimbabwe back almost immediately, as Razzak struck in his first over. Matsikenyeri was bowled trying to cut and Williams fell soon after to Rafique, bowled trying to drive on the off side. At that stage, Zimbabwe were still in a fairly decent position, scoring at a rate of over four an over. But with spinners operating from both ends on a sluggish surface, the rate started to dip.
Taylor and Hamilton Masakadza perished trying to push the scoring, both hitting straight down the throat of long off. Rafique, who accounted for Taylor, picked up his 100th wicket in one-dayers. The middle order caved in as the batsmen struggled to find the gaps against the left-armers who pegged away on a restrictive line. With half their side gone with only 100 on board, Chigumbura and Mluleki Nkala consolidated by adding 43. Fast bowler Shahadat Hossain, brought back in the slog overs, broke through as Chigumbura missed a wild swing on the on side.
Razzak was by far the most effective among the bowlers, cleverly teasing the batsmen with his flight - which he used very effectively to claim the last three wickets. Nkala stepped down the track but failed to get to the pitch of the ball, miscuing it to Mashrafe Mortaza, who held on to a difficult running catch at cover while Gary Brent was cleaned up for a quick 20, trying to hit across the line. Prosper Utseya wasted no time in dispatching Razzak over the ropes in the penultimate ball of the innings but Razzak came back to claim his wicket off the last, pitching it short of a length, beating Utseya who was neatly stumped by Mashud. Razzak finished with figures of 4 for 33, tormenting Zimbabwe for the second time, following his parsimonious spell of 3 for 17 in four overs in the Twenty20 international at the same venue on Tuesday.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is editorial assistant of Cricinfo