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This tour of Zimbabwe provided a possible turning point for Bangladeshi cricket. Under the guidance of Dav Whatmore, their new coach, they had taken obvious strides forward since a dismal 2003 World Cup and came close to embarrassing Pakistan in Multan five months earlier. But they were still looking for a first international victory since 1999. In Zimbabwe they found it, and the win clearly boosted their strength and determination. The series was a basement battle: Zimbabwe, second-bottom in the ICC Test Championship, were probably weaker than at any point in the country's 11-year Test history, after the premature departure of many leading players, and their worries about bottom-placed Bangladesh became clear in their tense, laboured cricket for most of the First Test. But they ultimately won that match by a wide margin, and were far the superior team in the rainruined Second.
Perhaps Zimbabwe then went into the one-day series expecting an easy ride. This provided the opening Bangladesh needed, and they swept to a fine victory in the third one-dayer, the first game to escape the rain. It ended a drought lasting 47 one-day internationals and 28 Tests, since the dubious win over Pakistan at Northampton on May 31, 1999.
Shocked out of complacency, Zimbabwe lost confidence too, while the Bangladeshis were inspired. Visiting journalists said they had never seen their team play so well, and the two remaining games were close-fought and exciting. Bangladesh would have won both, but for the skill and cool temperament of Zimbabwe's captain, Heath Streak. He played decisive roles with both bat and ball, and Zimbabwe pinched the series 2-1. Despite that, Bangladesh left in high spirits.
The tour was scheduled for Zimbabwe's wettest season, and even Bulawayo, in comparatively dry Matabeleland, was drenched. The Test there was ruined, and two one-day internationals abandoned because of a waterlogged ground. The weather often threatened in Harare too, but it stayed dry at the vital times. Otherwise the entire tour could have been a soggy disaster.
Bangladesh suffered from fragile batting, but their bowling was consistent, and the quality of fielding at times a revelation. The attack relied mainly on the seamer Mushfiqur Rahman and the left-arm spinner Mohammad Rafique, although Rafique was sent home before the final one-day match. During a practice session the new captain, Habibul Bashar, took the squad's junior left-arm spinner, Manjural Islam Rana, to his Zimbabwean counterpart Ray Price for some tips. Evidently feeling threatened, Rafique exploded. Habibul himself had a dismal time with the bat, apart from one fine innings of 61, which was vital to the precious win. But Bangladesh did not rely on outstanding individuals: they played well as a team.
Match reports for
Zimbabwe A v Bangladeshis at Harare, Feb 14-16, 2004
Zimbabwe A v Bangladeshis at Kwekwe, Mar 3, 2004