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For a low-profile series that showcased the ordinary in its missed chances and soft dismissals, the first hour of day five was its tribute to Test cricket
Firdose Moonda in Harare
April 29, 2013
That first hour. It had it all. Outswing searching for the edge. Bouncers in the hope of enticing a pull. The offspinner changing the angle to round the wicket, looking for the lbw. And one man and his younger brother hanging on.
For a low-profile series that showcased the ordinary in its missed chances and soft dismissals, the first hour of day five was its tribute to Test cricket. Bowlers were trying to get wickets by experimenting with their strategies and batsmen were applying themselves by showing good judgment of when to leave but still sending the boundary ball where it belonged.
Bangladesh were obviously searching, Zimbabwe were obviously being obdurate. It was all thinly laced together with that magic ingredient: pressure.
The bubble burst, not when Shingi Masakadza's long nightwatchman's vigil ended to give some credence to the team management's claim that he is a genuine all-rounder, but when Elton Chigumbura played into the trap that was set for him. He had two short midwickets to choose from and he picked out Robiul Islam.
That was the shot that signalled Zimbabwe's fight would exhaust itself before the day was up. It was the one that indicated all Bangladesh had to do was keep at it. A full day was too daunting for Zimbabwe's line-up and the patience of Hamilton Masakadza would run out of partners. Three-quarters of the way through the afternoon session, that is exactly what transpired.
It ended a basement battle that delivered on competitiveness, even though it was not evenly distributed throughout. The first Test belonged to Zimbabwe, bar the top order's time at the crease, the second almost entirely to Bangladesh.
The sixty minutes on the final morning was a tense tussle which, on its own, explained why these two teams should continue playing Test cricket. That passage of play would have convinced even those who wrote them off that they are worthy Test teams, because it was engaging and enterprising in equal measure.
Throughout the series, there were glimpses but not sustained periods of that. The contest between Zimbabwe's batsmen and Bangladesh's spinners turned out to be them against Robiul. The winner was definitely the latter. Robiul's away swing was impressive throughout and he proved as dangerous as he was difficult to get away.
Kyle Jarvis tested Bangladesh in the first Test but they had the better of him in the second. He learnt the hard way what can happen when you continually bowl the wrong length. Jarvis is as inexperienced as Robiul and both will be worth keeping an eye on as they develop.
So will Nasir Hossain and Richmond Mutumbami. Nasir has a Test average of 46.70 after 10 matches and seems to bat far too low. He has shown himself to be a stroke player especially against spin and the short ball. Mutumbami had a less emphatic impact on the series but was tidy behind the stumps and drove with confidence.
And then there are the two men who would have attracted the bulk of the praise and criticism - the captains. Mushfiqur Rahimm and Brendan Taylor both led with the bat and are getting better at doing the same in the field.
|The sixty minutes on the final morning was a tense tussle which, on its own, explained why these two teams should continue playing Test cricket. That passage of play would have convinced even those who wrote them off that they are worthy Test teams, because it was engaging and enterprising in equal measure.|
Mushfiqur still has to get used to managing a bowler of Robiul's quality and moving away from a hefty reliance on left-arm spin. Taylor's fielding positions can often leave a lot to be desired. There were occasions where he spread the field when he should have been trying to stop a single off the last ball of an over to prevent the in-form batsman getting on strike. Often, his men were placed too deeply to be able to take chances.
Missed opportunities on both sides blighted the series but there were some good takes too. Vusi Sibanda pulled off a blinder at short backward point to dismiss Mushfiqur for 93 while Nasir reacted quickly at first slip to get rid of Graeme Cremer. What lacks is consistency.
These teams do not have enough players they can rely on to regularly perform, and that has a direct impact on their confidence. They are constantly unsure of whether even the relatively big names like Hamilton Masakadza or Shakib al Hasan will deliver. In this match, both did. In the first, both did not.
Until that changes, their status as Test teams will remain as it is. Bangladesh's levelling of the series does not alter their position on the rankings, where they still sit at the bottom, but it does give them the knowledge that they can win away from home in conditions that are considered unfamiliar to them.
Zimbabwe's squaring of a series does not even put them on the Test rankings. They will need to play a minimum of eight matches in a particular period to qualify. If all their tours go as planned, they will play eight Tests this year and probably take up a position below Bangladesh. That is probably where they deserve to sit.
To separate the two teams may have taken another match. But, as so often happens in Test cricket these days, the contest was too short. Without a deciding third Test, the series feels unfinished. It will restart with a limited-overs leg and will be reignited at Test level again when Zimbabwe travel to Bangladesh. If they produce more cricket like the first hour today, it will be a clash worth waiting for.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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