Strydom stars in series-clinching triumph
Parsimonious spells from Prosper Utseya and Hamilton Masakadza combined with Gregory Strydom's hard-hitting fifty powered Zimbabwe to victory in the fourth one-day international against Bangladesh at Harare. This was Zimbabwe's 12th series win since their entry into the international fold in 1983 and their fourth in a bilateral series against Bangladesh.
Zimbabwe outperformed Bangladesh in all departments to win the series with a match to spare - their spinners restricted Bangladesh to 206 for 9 before Vusi Sibanda and Strydom marshalled the run-chase superbly to achieve the target in the 42nd over. Despite winning the toss for the first time in the series, Bangladesh got off to another poor start. In earlier games they lost their first wicket for 15, 17 and 4; today they managed 21 before Rajin Saleh, who replaced the out-of-form Javed Omar, pushed one straight to Stuart Matsikenyeri off Ed Rainsford.
There was a brief revival as Aftab Ahmed flung his bat around. Having scored 40 off 24 balls and 53 off 39 in his last two games, Aftab smashed four fours off Rainsford in the 11th over. However, the rush of blood eventually worked in Zimbabwe's favour and Aftab's innings ended on 27. Bangladesh had added 52 in 44 balls during Aftab's stay and his dismissal in the 15th over prompted Utseya to take the third Powerplay immediately.
Shahriar Nafees had played a steady hand at the other end after surviving a testy spell from Anthony Ireland. However, it was his indiscretion - ball-watching in the direction of mid-off - that led to Mohammad Ashraful's run-out. Thereafter Utseya and Masakadza took centre stage. Utseya, fast aquiring a reputation for his miserliness as explained in S Rajesh's Numbers Game, started uncharacteristically with a short and wide long-hop that Ashraful promptly cut for four. Thereafter normal service resumed. Overs zipped by in double-quick time and runs came at a trickle. Utseya compounded Bangladesh's woes when Alok Kapali lobbed a tame shot to midwicket.
Zimbabwe struck a body blow when Masakadza breached Nafees's defences. He finished with 2 for 36, Utseya 2 for 25 and Stuart Matsikenyeri none for 18 after five overs. Between them they had conceded just two boundaries between the 20th and the 38th over - a period in which Bangladesh managed only 61. Farhad Reza had just struck a six when he was wretchedly stranded a few balls later. Such was the nature of Bangladesh's effort. There were several spurts of intent but they were just that - spurts, as they allowed Zimbabwe to make frequent inroads.
Zimbabwe got off to a perfect start in a crucial run-chase. Sibanda and Duffin bucked the trend of poor opening partnerships by putting on 57 runs - the highest first-wicket stand in the series for both sides. Instead of approaching the target cautiously, both openers took on the opening bowlers - Shahadat Hossain and Mashrafe Mortaza - at every possible opportunity. The batsmen took turns at finding the fence and Hossain, the hat-trick hero of the previous game, leaked 26 runs in his first three overs. Bangladesh could ill afford runs to flow at such a pace - 43 had come off the first seven overs - and Khaled Mashud was forced to try Abdur Razzak's left-arm spin as early as the eighth over. The drop in the run-rate that followed was dramatic.
The first Powerplay had yielded 50 runs off ten overs but Zimbabwe struggled to score 12 runs off five in the second Powerplay. Both batsmen were clueless against Razzak and Mohammad Rafique who induced an edge from Duffin off his second ball. Sibanda, however, survived tense moments against the spinners and found his groove again in the company of Strydom.
Strydom muscled his first few boundaries to get going and, once settled, took charge after Sibanda's departure. He kept the runs flowing with regular boundaries and brought up his first ODI fifty - of 47 balls - with a lofted hit in front of square. By the time he fell, to a leading edge, Zimbabwe were on the threshold of victory. If Bangladesh thought they had a flicker of hope, it was quickly stubbed out by Matsikenyeri and Brendan Taylor, who fittingly sealed the series with another massive six over wide long-on.
Rajin Saleh c Matsikenyeri b Rainsford 11 (21 for 1)
Half-hearted push to short extra cover
Aftab Ahmed c Utseya b Masakadza 27 (73 for 2)
Pulled from outside off stump, sharp catch diving forward at midwicket
Mohammad Ashraful run out Duffin 6 (82 for 3)
Woefully short at the striker's end after being sent back by Nafees
Alok Kaplai c Sibanda c Utseya 10 (102 for 4)
Lobbed tamely to midwicket
Shahriar Nafees b Masakadza 45 (137 for 5)
Missed a heave over midwicket
Farhad Reza run out Utseya 30 (157 for 6)
Dabbed on the leg side, Mashud sends Reza back to the non-strikers end
Mohammad Rafique c Sibanda b Utseya (160 for 7)
Hit straight to cover
Khaled Mashud c Rainsford b Ieland (190 for 8)
Pulled to deep square leg
Mashrafe Mortaza b Ed Rainsford 23 (197 for 9)
Backed away to a yorker
Terry Duffin c Mashud b Rafique 24 (57 for 1)
Pushed forwad, thin edge to the wicketkeeper
Vusi Sibanda b Reza 46 (91 for 2)
Missed a heave over midwicket
Hamilton Masakadza retired hurt 19 (156 for 2)
Went off because of a bleeding nose
Gregory Strydom c Ashraful b Razzak 58 (159 for 3)
Closed the face, leading edge to mid-on
George Binoy is editorial assistant of Cricinfo