Bangladesh's top order has rarely been in prime form over the past year, but if there was a game in which they could afford to fail, this was it. After the home side's bowlers demolished Zimbabwe for 44, the fifth lowest total in one-dayers, even a familiar failure at the top couldn't stop Bangladesh from taking the series by knocking off the runs in 11.5 overs.
Despite two big wins in the previous two matches Bangladesh captain Shakib Al Hasan had been unhappy with his team's performance, demanding an improved show. The bowlers delivered again, but the batting again wobbled, and the fielding was a mixed bag. Zimbabwe could have been in for even more embarrassment had Bangladesh not grassed three catches.
After three games in Mirpur the action shifted to Chittagong, where the pitch offered plenty of turn and bounce, but Zimbabwe can't use that as an excuse as most of the wickets were due to some poor shot selection from the batsmen rather than due to gremlins in the track.
Stand-in captain Hamilton Masakadza, Zimbabwe's most impressive player this year, had a horror game. First, in a decision that is sure to give him sleepless nights, he opted to bat on a juicy track. "Obviously, we misread the wicket. It was slower than we thought," he said. And five deliveries into the innings, he mistimed his attempt to clear mid-on to start the procession of wickets.
Left-arm spinner Abdur Razzak, who has been one of the standout players this series, then got a big breakthrough with his third delivery, inducing Brendan Taylor to chip the ball back to the bowler. Zimbabwe were three down in the third over when Charles Coventry played down the wrong line to nick the ball to the keeper.
Mark Vermuelen is one Zimbabwe batsman who can construct a dour, defensive innings, but even he lasted only nine deliveries. A straight delivery from Razzak foxed him as he played for the turn, to be struck in front of off.
Zimbabwe's top-order had done a decent job so far in the series, but the batsmen lower down showed little backbone. Alistair Campbell, the chairman of selectors, was hoping at this stage for a reversal of roles between the two, and for a while Malcolm Waller and Stuart Matsikenyeri gave him hope with the longest partnership of the match, lasting eight overs.
The visitors seemed to be staging a fightback through the pair, who even lashed the 12th over for 10 runs after only 20 had been cobbled together before that. Matsikenyeri, though, undid the good work by throwing his wicket away: a short and wide ball was carved to Mohammad Ashraful at backward point.
That brought on another domino-style batting collapse with Zimbabwe losing four wickets in four overs. Two of them were due to athletic fielding efforts: Waller fell to a blinder at cover by Nazmul Hossain (a full-length dive to his left), and Elton Chigumbura took the visitors past the lowest score ever in ODIs (35) before offering a low return catch to Enamul Haque jnr.
Shakib and Enamul then polished off the tail. "When we started playing, we thought it was a flat track but when our spinners came in, it was doing a bit and they landed the ball in the right areas," Shakib said.
Zimbabwe's innings barely lasted an hour-and-half, and the fans were still trickling into the stadium on a sleepy Tuesday morning when Bangladesh openers strode out for the chase. A straightforward victory seemed on the cards when local Tamim Iqbal and Junaid Siddique made a confident start. They had coasted to 33 for 0 before the spinners, Ray Price and Graeme Cremer, snared three wickets in the space of nine deliveries to give Zimbabwe fans something to shout about. It was another failure for both Junaid and Ashraful, whose places will come under scrutiny for the dead rubber.
Naeem Islam became the fourth Bangladesh batsman to be dismissed before a swipe over midwicket from Mushfiqur Rahim sealed the series.