Mushfiqur needs a new mantra
Among the various things Mushfiqur Rahim said from behind the stumps, two sentences firmly stood out. "Gazi, I feel like taking my gloves off and having a bowl," he told the offspinner as at the start of the 146th over. The Bangladesh captain, like his team, was clearly frustrated as Shingirai Masakadza and Keegan Meth held up the visitors in a ninth wicket stand. The other sentence, which was more telling, was the oft-repeated one: "Tighten up your lines, cut out the runs, they will give away the wickets."
He said it like a mantra, and the Bangladesh bowlers followed it like a mantra as they kept the Zimbabwe batsmen on a leash for more than 150 overs. But what slipped away was an opportunity to make proper use of a greenish wicket that offered much to pace bowlers, while also letting the spinners bowl with some turn to look forward to as early as the first session of the match.
In the four Tests this season, Bangladesh have been using a bowling attack that was mostly one-dimensional, which prompted Mushfiqur to always follow the safety-first approach. The four specialist bowlers in Harare and the hint of Shakib Al Hasan still couldn't shake the captain out of his safety-first mindset.
Robiul Islam and Rubel Hossain bowled 68 overs between them for five wickets. It was the lack of the third seamer that forced Mushfiqur into bringing back Rubel and Robiul whenever necessary. Robiul's 38 overs was the most bowled by a Bangladesh pace bowler, but he was the consummate "labourer of the bowling attack" as one bowling coach once remarked about him.
Both he and Rubel bowled far better than their last outing in Colombo, offering a much more consistent line, if not length. Their folly was to be too dependent on the line outside off-stump which was happily negotiated by the Zimbabwe batsmen. Rubel tried to build up pressure through dot balls, but he has lost some of his pace due to the shoulder injury. Robiul looked dangerous whenever he bowled straight up to the batsmen.
The spinners picked up the other five wickets to fall, but one look at their volume and one would easily understand which type of bowler is more preferred in the Bangladeshi mindset. Mushfiqur couldn't get enough of Enamul Haque jnr, the left-arm spinner, who had to re-educate himself into Test cricket as this was his first outing since mid-2009. After he had settled into a rhythm and picked up a wicket, Mushfiqur could have rotated him with the offspinner Sohag Gazi. But he kept on using the left-arm spinner who continuously changing his pace and length as he strived to contain the batsmen. By the second day, he became predictable.
Abdur Razzak, another leading left-arm spinner who is deemed an ODI specialist, had remarked recently that the natural drift and turn of the offspinner offers more to a captain than a left-arm spinner. His simple explanation was that the batsman has to play Gazi more than Enamul. It was exactly what happened, though Gazi's spells were too short to bring in extra close catchers on the legside.
Perhaps Mushfiqur wanted Gazi to play the holding role towards the end of sessions, or use him sparingly so that Zimbabwe didn't get wind of his nuances when Shakib will be ready to bowl at full tilt and they can make do without Enamul. He was also not helped by Gazi's lack of enthusiasm, as there were full tosses and some odd short balls.
This mantra of cutting out the runs to choke the batsmen wasn't useful against Brendan Taylor or Malcolm Waller or even Graeme Cremer. None of these batsmen looked flustered as they were happy to let balls either pitch outside off stump and hold its line, or turn from middle and whizz past their outside edge. The three batsmen thrived as soon as the bowlers' energy flagged, and their lines drifted to the legstump.
If it was a game of patience, Zimbabwe won the first battle but this is a Test match, so when it comes to the third innings, Bangladesh would do well to attack the stumps. Whenever Robiul or the others used a straighter line, the inexperienced home batsmen looked vulnerable and were easier to lure into a poor drive. Whether it will happen will completely depend on what the captain's mantra is later in the game.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here