Zimbabwe v Bangladesh preview July 28, 2006

All to play for in basement battle

Bangladesh's players prepare in the nets ahead of the opening ODI © BCB
The cricket world as a whole might not know - or, being brutally honest, care - but a five-match one-day series between Zimbabwe and Bangladesh kicks off at Harare Sports Club on Saturday. Despite international indifference, the series matters very much to the participants.

Through the vagaries of the way it is calculated, the ICC ODI rankings show Zimbabwe are ranked in ninth, one place above Bangladesh. This series could change all that, as anything other than victory for Zimbabwe will mean they are leapfrogged by their visitors.

Bangladesh start as odds-on favourites, and a 5-0 whitewash is not inconceivable. Zimbabwe come into these matches on the back of 15 consecutive ODI defeats against Full Member countries, and their last home series was a dispiriting 2-2 draw with Kenya in March. On paper, Bangladesh are not much better, with two wins in their last 15, but that includes their memorable victory over Australia at Cardiff and some promising Test performances.

Zimbabwe's problems have been well documented and they are still consolidating after the divisive and destructive internal battles of the last two years. What is unclear is whether they have reached their nadir or are still in freefall. This series will make that clear.

So confused remains the situation inside the country's cricket that Zimbabwe Cricket did not name a squad until less than 18 hours before the first game, and when it did, it was under a new captain - Prosper Utseya - as the hapless Terry Duffin, who had been in the country less than 24 hours after flying in from England, had been fired.

The last time Zimbabwe played was in the Caribbean in May, when despite being beaten 5-0 they showed flickers of life. If they can build on that - and they do have home advantage, even if that does only equate to a few hundred die-hards at each match - then perhaps they can buy their beleaguered board some time and stave off calls for them to be slung out of the top flight.

Bangladesh, meanwhile, had intended to start this series after a three-game stopover in Kenya, but those matches were switched to the end of the Zimbabwe trip and so they have only had four days to acclimatise. They did have a warm-up on Wednesday, and the indications were that they had shaken off the effects of a gruelling 31-hour journey from Dhaka.

Man for man, they are the better and more experienced side, and they possess enough firepower to blast through Zimbabwe's top order. In Mohammad Rafique they have a spinner who could prove a match-winner. It is also hard to see their worldly-wise batsmen being too troubled by Zimbabwe's pop-gun attack, Ed Rainsford being the only seam bowler of any reasonable quality.

If Kevin Curran, Zimbabwe's coach, has managed to bring together a previously divided team then Zimbabwe might, just might, be able to spring a surprise or two. If they can't do that at home to the only side the ICC says is worse than they are, then they finally - and officially - will have hit rock bottom.