Test toddlers face off once more
Tatenda Taibu greeted Mohammed Ashraful with a brotherly hug, the kind of embrace that two weary soldiers would share. They nodded sagely as they separated, two stalwarts who have been down this road before. As veterans of their respective national teams, friends from when Taibu spent a season playing club cricket in Dhaka and opponents on more occasions than either can remember, it was fitting to be re-entering Test cricket together.
While England and India are tussling at the top of the Test table, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are in a scrap at the bottom. Both have not played a Test in over a year, with Bangladesh's hiatus lasting 14 months because of scheduling and Zimbabwe's almost six years after a removing themselves from the longest form of the game when their house fell apart. On Thursday, that interval finally ends.
For Bangladesh, it's a chance to show that they have matured as a cricketing nation and can adjust to conditions, instead of succumbing to them. For Zimbabwe, it's the start of a new era, with one eye firmly on the future of their status as a Full Member of the ICC. To be embarking on the journey together is special, the two toddlers of the Test arena, each stacking their building blocks to see whose is higher, each confident theirs will be the tower that stands, even if it has to lean over a tad.
"We'll win it," a cheeky Tamim Iqbal said, dismissing all thoughts the Bangladesh may need some time to get back into the groove of playing Test cricket. "If you're eating with the left hand, you won't forget to eat with the right hand. It's exactly the same - you need to prepare well, set your mindset and just play." Zimbabwe's Hamilton Masakadza, who was sitting next to Tamim during their media session had a ready response. "We'll come out guns firing too and look for the win," he said.
Zimbabwe are hoping to capitalise on home advantage. They are reportedly preparing a pitch that will have some life for the quicker bowlers, so that they terrorise the Bangladesh batsmen with short balls and counteract the threat of left-arm spin. Tamim doesn't care about any of that. "We've toured South Africa, with one of the quickest wickets in the world. We faced Dale Steyn who is one the quickest bowlers in the world," he said. "I don't think there is any Dale Steyn in this team and I don't think there is any Cape Town wicket so I don't think we will have a problem."
A teasing response from Masakazda this time. "You speak so well now," he said to Tamim, who only laughed, letting the Zimbabwean continue. "Anyway, Tamim is one of the Bangladesh players who does play the short ball well. Cricket is evolving and it's a thing of the past to say one team doesn't do this, or does do this so I don't think that will play too much of a role," Masakadza said.
Part of cricket's evolution has been the debate on whether it should stay an old boys' club that only allows nine or ten big boys to play at the highest level or expand and give smaller teams time to develop. The ICC need look no further than Harare Sports Club over the next week to know the answer to that question.
There's every chance that some of the cricket played here will not be of the highest quality, that if it goes the five-day distance, the bowlers will be toiling too hard and the batsmen playing defensively, that if there is a result, it could be in a three-day shootout and this match will not go down as one of cricket's most memorable because its scorecard.
There is an even greater chance that the 22 men in white who step onto the field will be hoping with all their hearts to start something special, whether its Bangladesh trying to better their record away from home or Zimbabwe trying to show that the years of hard work have paid off, and that once the final ball is bowled they will walk off as friends and comrades who are in this journey together.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent