Bangladesh v Zimbabwe, 1st Test, Chittagong, 1st day January 6, 2005

Bashar and Saleh put Bangladesh on top

Bangladesh 280 for 4 (Bashar 94, Saleh 60*, Nafis 56) v Zimbabwe
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Habibul Bashar made it Bangladesh's day with a typically aggressive 94 © AFP

Habibul Bashar might have missed out on a century by just six runs, but his 94 put Bangladesh on top after the first day of the first Test against Zimbabwe at Chittagong. They closed on 280 for 4, chasing their first Test victory.

With more batting to come, Bangladesh already have the upper hand in a Test which they believe they have every chance of winning, against an inexperienced Zimbabwe side which is back in the Test arena after a nine-month absence.

The first two days in Chittagong are usually the best for batting, and the slow, grassless pitch - where balls kept low from the outset - didn;t offer much encouragement to the fielding side.

Bashar's dismissal came shortly before the close, after he had looked destined to reach his fourth Test century. He had just pulled the fast bowler Chris Mpofu to the boundary to reach 94, but the very next ball he chased an innocuous one, only to see Zimbabwe's captain Tatenda Taibu dive at full stretch to his right and hold a stunning catch. It was the debutant Mpofu's first Test wicket.

That dismissal brought to a close an exciting stand of 119 between Bashar and Rajin Saleh. They came together after Mohammad Ashraful was dismissed for an uncharacteristically sedate 19 off 62 balls just before the break, leaving Bangladesh on 153 for 3.

But Saleh came out with surprisingly attacking intent, and the runs piled up at a brisk rate. Saleh's urgency gave Bashar the confidence to play his natural game and they hit Graeme Cremer, the 18-year-old debutant legspinner, out of the attack. Both Bashar and Saleh were severe on anything pitched short and wide, and when Cremer flighted them, he was dispatched either to cover or the straight boundary.

Saleh struck the only six of the day when he clobbered Stuart Matsikenyeri over long-off - and Taibu had seen enough of his slow bowlers for the day. He wasted no time in taking the new ball, and he was almost rewarded when Saleh pulled uppishly to deep midwicket. But Cremer made a bad day even worse by flooring the chance. That drop proved costly as Bangladesh plundered 60 from the last ten overs with the new ball and - despite the loss of Bashar - were in the driver's seat.

Bashar had lived a charmed life before tea. He was desperately lucky to survive two lbw shouts as Mpofu, who found some reverse-swing, peppered his pads. Taibu put three catchers in the deep hoping to force a false stroke, but the only shot that Bashar mistimed zoomed straight over Taibu's head and to the boundary.

Zimbabwe's bowlers toiled hard, and Mluleki Nkala stood out with 2 for 22 off 18. But the slowness of the pitch, and the lack of firepower, meant that Bangladesh were never really threatened. But Zimbabwe took almost all the half-chances that came their way, and turned in a refreshingly energetic effort after lunch just when it was looking like one-way traffic, to make three crucial breakthroughs.

The openers, Javed Omar and Nafis Iqbal, fell in the space of three runs after they had put on 91, a Bangladesh record which bettered their 73 against the same opponents in 2001. After the openers went, the final session became even more joyous for Zimbabwe when the danger man Ashraful flicked hard at a Nkala delivery going down leg and Hamilton Masakadza, ingeniously placed at leg gully, plucked it out of thin air. Ahsraful's dismissal was a blow for Bangladesh - he had put on 60 with Bashar and had looked set for a long stay at the crease.

The impressive Elton Chigumbura found some extra zip on an unresponsive track, so it was fitting that he should take the first wicket. After Nafis had dealt with a shortish ball unconvincingly, Chigumbura tried another one - this time to Omar - who took his eyes off the ball after making 33 and ballooned it for Taibu to take the easiest of catches.

Next came a piece of fielding genius. Nafis, who had just completed his second Test fifty with a mixture of style and shocking running between the wickets, tried to keep a ball from Nkala down, but Vusi Sibanda picked it up inches from the ground at short leg and then, when it threatened to pop out, lunged forward and caught the ball again with his outstretched right hand.

Bangladesh should dictate terms from here, but a couple of early wickets on the second day might still keep Zimbabwe in the game. The first session tomorrow could, therefore, be decisive.

Rabeed Imam is a sports writer for the Daily Star in Dhaka.