Nafees ton takes Bangladesh home
Some parsimonious bowling by their spinners and a Shahriar Nafees hundred helped Bangladesh defeat Zimbabwe by eight wickets in the fifth ODI at Harare. Though the hosts have won the series 3-2 this win helped Bangladesh salvage some pride.
Bangladesh's decision to play three spinners, led by the miserly Abdur Razzak, and buttressed by the presence of the part-time offspinner in Rajin Saleh, proved correct as the slow men applied a chokehold to reverse a solid start by Zimbabwe and to eventually restrict them to 197. Saleh, who ended with four wickets, reaped the fruits of the regular spinners's labour.
Zimbabwe, with the cushion of a series win behind them, had raced away to a comfortable position when Khaled Mashud, Bangladesh's stand-in-captain for the injured Habibul Basher, went for his main weapon: spin. Eleven overs of medium pace had bled 59 runs before Razzak came on. The pitch held no great demons: there was no huge turn or magic balls. Varying his pace smartly he attacked the middle and off stump line. And with the ball not coming on and the spinners hitting the right line and the length, the batsmen struggled to force the pace. The run rate dropped, the pressure grew and the batsmen succumbed one after the other. Hamilton Masakadza put up a battle but, with his colleagues deserting him at regular intervals, he perished as well, hastening the end of the innings.
Masakadza had nearly succeeded in breaking free when he hit Mohammed Rafique out of the attack with two stunning hits in the 21st over that erased the smiles from the Bangladeshi faces. He waltzed down the track and sent the ball screaming over long-off and immediately went for the cow corner in deep midwicket. But just when he had earned the license to go for the kill, he found himself bereft of support.
Brendan Taylor, the third-match hero, crawled to a painful 24 off 71 balls, unable to strike out against the spinners. He struggled, especially, against the accuracy of Rafique, eking out only 8 runs from 30 balls. And it was not just Rafique; there was to be no relief from the other end as well. The third left-arm spinner, the young Saqibul Hasan, who replaced Shahadat Hossain for this match, was also miserly, and helped tighten the screws. Taylor struggled to rotate the strike back to Masakadza and eventually fell, trying to cut Razzak. The noose had begun to tighten.
Elton Chigumbra, sent up the order to increase the tempo, combusted immediately on arrival. An under-pressure Mazakadza soon followed, playing across the line to Saleh and a run out saw another batsmen going down. Four wickets in the space of 13 runs and the spinners had Bangladesh on top. Saleh struck to the basics: kept the ball up, struck to an off stump line and watched as the tail fell, the last five wickets eked out only 25 runs.
With Nafees leading the charge and Saleh chipping in with a crisp 37, Bangladesh moved along assuredly in their chase. Prosper Utseya gave Nafees a reprieve in the fourth over when he couldn't quite hold on to a running catch off a mistimed pull. Nafees was off and running after that. He drove pleasantly and cut with panache to steer Bangladesh home.
Earlier, Zimbabwe's openers, especially Terry Duffin, had gone for the jugular, hitting on-the-up over cover, pulling and driving merrily down the ground. Lady luck humoured Zimbabwe as well: an inside-edged four, by Vusi Sibanda, started off the run-count, a couple of leading edges flew over the fielders and, keeping with the theme of the series, there was the usual drop by a butter-fingered Bangladeshi. In the second over, Sibanda threw his bat at a Farhad Reza delivery which was palmed off at first slip by Mushfiqur Rahim. Two cover drives off Raza - one was so fiercely whacked that nobody moved on the field - followed before Sibanda was done in by a clever bit of bowling from Syed Rasel. Rasel had kept bending the ball back into Sibanda before he suddenly slipped one across the body. A surprised Sibanda did not quite get behind the line, lunged forward and tried to leave the delivery at the last minute but failed.
Duffin, who was getting increasingly edgy as the run-rate dropped, tried to hit out of trouble. First, he attempted an ugly hoick, failed, and then off the next ball fell trying to sweep as Razzak slipped one full and straight.
Mazakadza's was a serene effort. True, two savage hits off Rafique would lead the highlights package in news channels, but it was not the norm. He didn't bludgeon his way around but chose to caress: dabbed a few to the off side, drove a few down the ground, swept to alter the length of the spinners, cut when there was the opportunity and, suddenly, his fifty was up. But with his team-mates struggling against nagging spin, the young Zimbabwe team could not conjure up another dreamy day of cricket.
However, the series triumph has provided them considerable redemption in a turbulent period. With the ICC working out a timetable to put Zimbabwe back in Test cricket, this win could not have come at a better time.
Vusi Sibanda c Khaled Mashud b Syed Rasel 17 (45 for 1)
Edged to slip
Terry Duffin lbw b Abdur Razzak 40 (79 for 2)
Trapped in front, attempting a sweep shot
Brendan Taylor c Mashud b Razzak 24 (165 for 3)
Nicked behind while trying to cut
Elton Chigumbura b Saqibul Hasan 0 (166 for 4)
Tried to hoick over midwicket, didn't connect
Hamilton Masakadza b Rajin Saleh 75 (172 for 5)
Played across the line, missed as the ball kept a touch low
Mufambisi run out 1 (178 for 6)
Left stranded as Matsikenyeri didn't respond to his call for a quick single
Prosper Utseya c sub (Alok Kapali) b Rajin Saleh 7 (189 for 7)
Top-edged an attempted heave over midwicket
Matsikenyeri b Rajin Saleh 10 (189 for 8)
Went for a whack across the line, missed
Anthony Ireland run out Syed Rasel/Khaled Mashud 3 ( 196 for 9)
Tried to attempt a second run but failed to beat a throw from deep backward square
Blessing Mahwire b Rajin Saleh 4
Attempted heave to the on side, missed it
Rajin Saleh c & b Prosper Utseya 37 (99 for 1)
drove hard to right of Utseya who took a sharp catch
Aftab Ahmad st Taylor b Utseya 6 (128 for 2)
Sriram Veera is editorial assistant of Cricinfo