Zimbabwe make progress with small victories
Only one day of this Test match has been played, but already, there have been four small victories for Zimbabwe.
The first was achieved before the game had even started when four, eager young men were given their first Test caps. Tinotenda Mawoyo, Craig Ervine, Kyle Jarvis and Brian Vitori lined up like schoolboys, hands behind the backs, blazers perfectly tailored and fitted, those with hair had it neatly combed and there was excitement in all eight eyes. In front of them, the chief executive of the ICC, Haroon Lorgat, was waiting to congratulate them, having made the trip to Zimbabwe especially to witness the country's return to Test cricket first hand.
That in all the strife that has engulfed the country in recent years, they were able to produce four players capable of donning Test caps, two black, two white, showing the gap that has been bridged in cricket if not elsewhere, is a significant achievement. That one of them went on to bat with assurance and poise is something that the word victory doesn't quite encapsulate. It's just fantastic. Mawoyo showed why he was deserving of his debut with an accomplished 43, a just reward after battling a persistent hamstring injury in recent months.
"I am definitely proud," Brendan Taylor, Zimbabwe captain said. "He's a guy that's really guts it out and has batted long periods. I know he will be disappointed with getting in and then getting out but knowing the kind of guy that he is, he will come back stronger in the second innings."
The second triumph was in the way Zimbabwe approached the first day's task. All the talk about the pitch was that it was, beyond doubt, a win-the-toss-and-bowl surface. What a mockery they made of that notion. A situation that could have disintegrated into a panic pot was handled with responsibility and authority as Mawoyo and Vusi Sibanda scored quickly but carefully in the morning session.
They weren't rattled by Shafiul Islam's accuracy or over excited by Robiul Islam's inconsistency. They showed the maturity that is sometimes absent from teams that have been playing Test cricket much longer, much more frequently and much more recently, than they have been. "I can't compliment our guys enough," Taylor said. "The way the openers stuck in there and laid a good platform for Hamilton and myself. It was good start for the day, we can't ask for more."
Hamilton Masakadza is their third success story of the day. A stalwart of the set up, who has been playing international cricket for the last ten years, albeit sporadically, Masakadza showed how well he can apply himself when the occasion calls for it. His defence was solid, his attack was well executed and his mindset was strong. He will start tomorrow needing just 12 runs to reach a second Test century.
Some of the journalists at the press conference reminded him that he has never been able to push on for 100 in the past, when being unbeaten overnight. Masakadza's response showed that he cared about more than a collective cause and not doing anything to put that in jeopardy.
"The thought [of getting to 100] crossed my mind a little bit when I was on 85 and there was still time in the day," Masakadza said. "But when I saw the way Brendan was playing I thought it was better to just to see out the day and come back tomorrow only two down so that it didn't put pressure on the guys coming in behind me."
The fourth truimph comes in the wonderful blend of ambition and humility that the Zimbabwe players carry with them. In years to come that may change, but for now it remains their most likeable trait.
As far as objectives go, Taylor is already looking at a total that could well bat Bangladesh out of the match. "We'll look to bat deep into tomorrow and put up to a total that makes it very difficult for the Bangladeshis to come back into the game," he said. That total should be "nothing less than 450" and then comes the slight reticence, "but that's still around 200 runs away."
The game plan tomorrow will be to continue building their house and not risking anything that may tear it down. "Hopefully Hamilton and myself can come in and bat the first session out and leave it up to our bigger hitters to come in from the middle order and add some runs," Taylor said. He switched effortlessly from professional to pleasant acquaintance and went on recommended a local steakhouse to a few reporters who were looking for somewhere to experience an African dining experience.
With all the focus on Zimbabwe's showing, Bangladesh may feel as though they have no feats of their own to talk about after day one, and they wouldn't be far wrong. A poor effort in the field takes away from any of the rare impressive deliveries that some of them dished up. A weary Shakib al Hasan said he expected more after putting Zimbabwe in to bat. "We thought that in the first two hours there will be some help for the bowlers," he said. "I don't think our bowlers bowled in good areas consistently, they bowled some good balls but not consistently enough."
He goes into the second day with only a simple piece of instruction for his bowlers: "I'd like them to bowl as straight as they can, to try to hit on the wicket every time they come and bowl, that's why I have set a straight field." He thinks that will be only way Bangladesh will get anywhere close to a victory of any sort because, "on that wicket, although it is flat, if you can't bowl straight you are supposed to get hit."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent