Matsikenyeri and Chigumbura pull it off for Zimbabwe
Stuart Matsikenyeri marked his return to international cricket since March 2005 with the innings of his career and Elton Chigumbura defied the odds to help Zimbabwe overhaul Bangladesh's 247 and clinch a thriller at Harare in stunning style. Matsikenyeri's 89 in a record sixth-wicket stand of 114 with Chigumbura, whose reenactment of Cool Hand Luke was a class act, systematically broke down the Bangladeshis and resurrected the hosts from 50 for 4 to a two-wicket victory.
When Chigumbura pinched a single to keep strike for the final over, and then effortlessly heaved Shahadat Hossain over midwicket for four to send the devoted fans at the Harare Sports Club into rapturous applause, Zimbabwe had taken the first step towards redeeming themselves from a turbulent past season.
The sight of Chigumbura, draped in the national flag and engulfed by a sea of school children, was heartening. Given that this was an inexperienced Zimbabwean side, with an average age of a classroom lot out of the Dead Poets' Society, the win would have been a shot of adrenalin, valium, and Prozac all in one.
Instead of inviting self destruct, like Zimbabwe have so often, Matsikenyeri and Chighumbura grabbed the innings by the reins in what will be remembered as a great win. To highlight the magnitude of the duo's contributions, we must rewind to the fact that the innings had started off rather pedestrian-like. Having been rocked by four strikes from Mashrafe Mortaza and Hossain, Bangladesh's new ball pairing, Zimbabwe looked down and out. A 51-run stand for the fifth wicket between Brendan Taylor and Matsikenyeri, in good time, was undone by Taylor's misjudgment. The introduction of Abdur Razzak and Mohammad Rafique, both left-arm spinners, encouraged the batsmen to use their feet and try to score down the ground. When Rafique gave it some air, the aggressive Taylor heaved him down to cow corner but was bowled in a repeat attempt. Deep trouble, you would think...
Not a chance. At least not yet. With the pressure clearly rising, Matsikenyeri and Chigumbura seemed to have realised and reassessed the situation. Singles come at a good clip and both batsmen refrained from indiscretion. Rafique and Razzak were watched carefully, while Alok Kapali's legspin was taken for runs. Once they figured out Rafique, Matsikenyeri and Chigumbura steadily brought the run rate down. Their running between the wickets, it must be said, was electric and belied the frailty of this inexperienced side. Matsikenyeri reached his fifty with a fine lofted shot down the ground and followed that up with a crashing extra cover drive for four more. To rub it in, Chigumbura ran Rafique cheekily down to third man and then got another boundary when he slashed Kapali to the same region.
More than the amount of runs the two put on, it was the manner in which they did so. The Matsikenyeri-Chigumbura association, worth its weight in grain, had Bangladesh sweating and later fatigued. Matsikenyeri, whose previous best was 73, took the leading role, and pushed by Chigumbura, unleashed some fine strokes all round the pitch. Shoulders drooped, Razzak began to vent his frustration, and Matsikenyeri was given the easiest of let-offs on 61 when his lofted shot to wide long-off was dropped by Javed Omar. He reacted with a neat paddle sweep for four off Razzak and to show that he was definitely to be taken seriousy, heaved the next ball over the midwicket rope.
However, a cruel twist was thrown in with victory, and Matsikenyeri's hundred, in sight. A sharp blow to the toe from a Mortaza yorker had Matsikenyeri on his back and receiving treatment, and cramped by the pain, he could only loft Shahadat to Mortaza at long-off in the next over. But Chigumbara, who stroked Mortaza for a stunning lofted six and straight four in the 47th over, kept his cool to see Zimbabwe through with five deliveries to spare. Prosper Utseya, in his first match as captain, proved his fallibility by missing a heave at Mortaza and losing his stumps in the penultimate over, and Ryan Higgings fell lbw the next ball to leave all at the ground reaching for their respirators. But Chigumbura was not about to let matters slip away.
Bangladesh's own innings had been a fidgety one. Tawanda Mupariwa's twin strikes first up had Bangladesh in all kinds of bother, but Shahriar Nafees's patient 78 and a quickfire 39 from Rafique at the death gave them a healthy total to defend. Nafees was a steady force in two fifty-plus stands with Mohammad Ashraful (25) and Habibul Bashar (40), and his effort, though sluggish, ensured Bangladesh did not succumb to the early pressure from Mupariwa. Following a middle order hash, Bangladesh were indebted to Rafique's effective use of the long handle. He picked up sixes over deep fine leg and long-off and pierced the gaps repeatedly to frustrate the fielders and take the gloss off a clinical bowling effort.
Zimbabwe's bowling was tidy, if unspectacular, and suggested early on that this side will push Bangladesh in the series. On a pitch which had a hint of moisture, Zimbabwe's new-ball pairing of Ed Rainsford and Mupariwa turned in a fine initial display. There was enough pace to check the flashy drives that we have become accustomed to from Bangladesh, and the right amount of late movement to keep the slip fielders licking their lips. The tennis-ball bounce also proved suitable to the swing that Mupariwa achieved, while the lift that Rainsford got had the batsmen in two minds. Mupariwa's celebratory fist pumping, dreadlocks and all, after nabbing Javed and Aftab Ahmed up the order, summed up the feisty attitude of the Zimbabweans.
His two further strikes at crucial times in the innings ensured Bangladesh did not run away to a high total. Rainsford, who impressed in the West Indies earlier this year, returned to bowl Nafees neck and crop at the death and was far more impressive at the end. Utseya sent down his ten overs on the trot for an economical 35 runs, while the support staff - Rinke, whose slow medium pace was quite harmless, Ryan Higgins, Masakadza and Matsikenyeri - did well to not haemorrhage runs. Ultimately, it made all the difference.
Javed Omar c Taylor b Mupariwa 8 (15 for 1)
Slashed at a wide delivery, simple catch for the 'keeper
Aftab Ahmed c Taylor b Mupariwa 0 (16 for 2)
Great delivery on off, kicked from a length, feathered to the 'keeper
Mohammad Ashraful c Higgins b Masakadza 25 (75 for 3)
Cut a short, wide delivery straight to backward point
Habibul Bashar c Chibhabha b Mupariwa 40 (146 for 4)
Pulled a short ball right to midwicket
Alok Kapali st Taylor b Masakadza 23 (185 for 5)
Dragged forward by one that gripped and turned, foot was just outside
Shahriar Nafees b Rainsford 78 (188 for 6)
A big heave at a full, straight one crashed into the stumps
Mohammad Rafique b Mupariwa (238 for 7)
Played all around a full delivery, leg stump castled
Chamu Chibhabha c Javed b Mashrafe 1 (7 for 1)
Short of a good length on off, pushed into the covers
Piet Rinke c Mashud b Mortaza 10 (38 for 2)
Shaped to heave over square leg, leading edge high in the air
Hamilton Masakadza c Ashraful b Shahadat 7 (50 for 3)
Tried to work a good length delivery to leg, leading edge went to point
Vusi Sibanda b Shahadat 22 (50 for 4)
Beaten for pace by a nasty inswinging yorker
Brendan Taylor b Rafique 25 (101 for 5)
Tossed up on middle, went for a slog-sweep, missed it completely
Stuart Matsikenyeri c Mortaza b Shahadat 88 (214 for 5)
Lofted a half volley right down long-off's throat
Prosper Utseya b Mortaza 8 (242 for 7)
Had a big heave, missed completely
Ryan Higgins lbw b Mortaza 0 (242 for 8)
Missed a straight one, struck right in front of the stumps
Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo