Robiul's bowling makes a quiet, effective impression
Unless you are Mashrafe Mortaza, pace bowling does not make you a hero in Bangladesh. So Robiul Islam's six-wicket haul in a Test match is far more than just his personal best. Given how poor the state of pace bowling has been in Bangladesh cricket recently, this performance would be the saving grace for Robiul's fast-bowling colleagues in the dressing room.
Robiul's six wickets at the end of the third day in Harare was the first time in almost three years a Bangladeshi pace bowler had taken five or more wickets in a Test innings. The last man to do so was Shahadat Hossain at Lord's, and there have been only two others who have taken a five-for for Bangladesh, Manjural Islam and Rubel.
He has also become the first Bangladeshi bowler to take the first six wickets in an innings. It says much about his persistent line and length, and a knack for forcing a false shot, but it also shows how much Mushfiqur Rahim depends him. He had picked up three wickets in the first innings, during which he was quite the threat to the Zimbabwe batsmen.
After Bangladesh had collapsed dramatically on the third morning, there was not a lot of expectation on Robiul but there remained a sense of anticipation when he ran in with the new ball. So far in the season, he has looked like the only pace bowler who can offer control along with the valued ability to pick up wickets.
The post-Test era history of pace bowling in Bangladesh is littered with shattered dreams, unfulfilled talents and sacrifice of pace. Robiul is in his eighth first-class season and has grown up as a pace bowler in this climate. He has seen many of his predecessors start off in a blaze only to fritter away on the international scene. The demands on their physical fitness, skills and mentality became too much at times, resulting in several precautionary tales.
The image of the fast bowler in Bangladesh is of a hardy fellow who will start off well, but never end up with a big haul. The pitches are made for batsmen and spinners to battle, rendering him a bit-part role that is often forgotten. Mashrafe's persona, and his larger-than-life character to bounce back from several injuries has given him a cult following of sorts, but the rest are easy to ridicule and have quickly been discarded as 'has-been' players.
Until he was called up to the senior team in 2010, Robiul had resisted the stereotype by bowling himself to the ground, focusing more on the hauls he could bring rather than being a hero. He played for three divisional sides in the backwoods of Bangladesh's domestic cricket, picking up several tricks of the trade as he went along. Once he made his debut at Lord's, incidentally the same Test in which Shahadat took that last five-for, Robiul had to open up as a cricketer. Gone was the timidity that comes with almost every new Bangladeshi player in the international scene. Slowly, a sense of humour became one of his admirable aspects.
He had to wait more than a year for a second Test, which was also in Harare two years ago. Sarwar Imran, then an assistant coach and a bowling expert, called him a "day labourer" among bowlers. It was an apt moniker, given that he has the body of a man ready to work all day.
His hunger for wickets should have been satiated with whatever he got in first-class cricket, but he craved for it at the top level. During the practice match last month in Matara, which he sat out, Robiul talked about how a five-wicket haul was as important for a bowler as a Test hundred is for a batsman. "It puts you on the map," he said.
After speaking to him regularly, one can surmise that he thinks about pace bowling, and is comfortable being himself. This was the moment he had been waiting for and now that it has come, he can open himself up a little more; he is no longer an outsider. In a Bangladesh dressing-room where performance is now the buzzword, Robiul has given himself a chance to become a regular member of a Test side, and not zip across the country in the winter looking for opportunities.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here