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Firdose Moonda in Harare
April 16, 2013
Height was not the only difference between Brendan Taylor and Mushfiqur Rahim when they posed with the Test series trophy. In the few minutes that the captains stood posing for the cameras, their faces said it all: while Taylor is weighed down with worry, Mushfiqur is buoyed by possibility.
The Zimbabwean camp are doing their best to disguise their difficulties. Although they have been through a period of poor results and financial disputes, if an alien landed in the country, it would not see many differences between Zimbabwean training and practice in most other places in the world.
"We've got a happy camp. We've got a rejuvenated camp. All the other stuff is water under the bridge," Taylor insisted. While watching them go about their preparations in a carefree, unfussed manner, that is easy to believe. When considering that as recently as last week, Craig Ervine walked out on his country to take up a club cricket deal, it is not.
But Zimbabwe are used to these kinds of disruptions. They have been able to play with sideshows going on in the past. They have not been able to win often, but that is not the fault of diversions alone and so they have got used to that too particularly away from home - where they have been playing for more than a year.
Although they regard their poor showings in New Zealand, at the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka and in West Indies with seriousness, they are careful to separate those from what they hope to achieve on their own turf. The comfort of Harare Sports Club is what Taylor hopes will justify his fighting talk.
"I'm sure it will be a testing wicket here with good pace and bounce. I'm sure they'd (Bangladesh) rather be on a lower flatter wicket," he said. "We know they have got to the talent to score big against any team but we hope our bowlers can cause some problems." When Zimbabwe last hosted Bangladesh at this venue, their opening bowlers, Kyle Jarvis and Brian Vitori, both on debut, impressed. Their emergence hinted that Zimbabwe were bucking the trend of relying on spinners and starting to develop quality seamers. Heath Streak oversaw the process and although his contract as bowling coach has not been renewed by Zimbabwe Cricket, the fruits of his labour will be on display.
Four quicks are a possibility with Tendai Chatara, who earned his first Test cap in the West Indies, expected to play alongside a resurgent Elton Chigumbura and a focused Keegan Meth. Jarvis, who has been Zimbabwe's best player since their Test comeback, will lead the attack but Vitori may not appear at all. Injuries have caused him to regress although he looks to be readying for a comeback.
Zimbabwe's batting is the concern especially after it was dismantled by spin in the West Indies. At home, Taylor believes the top four can produce and knows he is a crucial part of that. He managed just 123 runs in his last eight innings but is ready to rectify that. "I've hit thousands of balls since then. I feel my preparation has been excellent," he said.
Mushfiqur has no such pressure. He recently became Bangladesh's first double centurion on the tour of Sri Lanka where they showed real progress. "It's big satisfaction for any captain if you see your team doing well," he said. "Players are taking more responsibility and they prepare well. What we want now is more consistent cricket."
Bangladesh talk in an eerily similar way to the way South Africa do although they are at the opposite end of the Test rankings. Mushfiqur used the word "processes," in the same context Gary Kirsten does when he explains South Africa's approach. "We are thinking of the processes and the basics and we want to improve each series."
He hinted that the team was learning to deal with the expectations of their public because they are a "bit more professional," and promised would use this tour as an "opportunity to change the statistics."
He also brushed off suggestion that Bangladesh will be disadvantaged by the conditions, saying their experience in Pallekele prepared them for less spin-friendly surfaces. "If there is something in the pitch, our quicks will have the same advantage as them so we are looking forward to bowling and batting on it," he said.
Up to that point, the two captains were on an even keel as their sides often are when they take the field. But Taylor conceded the advantage when he admitted Bangladesh had taken further strides than Zimbabwe over the last 20 months because of their depth.
"Being part of the BPL and seeing the development and the number of young players coming through and the talent they have, I know Bangladesh have got a good, balanced side," he said. "We'll have to be on top of our game if we are going to beat Bangladesh." Maybe that realisation caused him to frown and his opposite number to grin.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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