Zimbabwe keep series hopes flickering
Zimbabwe's batting has improved with each outing this series, and today they kept their hopes alive with a victory that brought Bangladesh's winning run to a screeching halt. On a flat batting track the hosts briefly threatened to combust in another jittery display from the top order, but Hamilton Masakadza lit up the innings with a maiden ODI century, supported by a calm Brendan Taylor and a gung-ho Elton Chigumbura. Zimbabwe were in control when Chigumbura joined Taylor in the 39th over, and what proceeded to unfold turned a solid batting act into an exhibition of butchery.
The pair added 90 from 50 balls, Chigumbura racing to his half-century from just 26 balls, and 60 from the batting Powerplay lifted the total to 323, Zimbabwe's best at the venue and against Bangladesh. In reply, the visitors came up with a batting effort as edgy as Tuesday's had been powerful, with only Raqibul Hasan and Mahbubul Alam showing any fight.
Early signs indicated this game could be one for the bowlers when Zimbabwe slipped to 17 for 2 and then 60 for 3, but Masakadza and Taylor stood up to be counted. Zimbabwe's top order will do well to take a few lessons from Masakadza, who assessed the situation smartly, bided his time against the bit of swing Mahbubul got and consolidated in the middle overs. He acted as a glue to guarantee Zimbabwe's innings didn't fall apart.
Quick to capitalise on even marginal errors in length, Masakadza stroked delicate drives between cover and backward point off either foot. With Taylor offering cool support the pair counter-attacked in an efficient manner, knocking the ball into the gaps and not trying to play the spinners too safely - a factor that had stifled Zimbabwe in the series opener. Boundaries didn't flow - at one stage Zimbabwe went 11 overs without finding the ropes - but the run rate rarely dropped. The pair regularly spoke mid-pitch, no doubt stressing in the fact that all that was required was levelheaded batting, and that a wicket would put too much pressure on those to follow.
After a long absence playing cricket in England, Taylor came back strongly with a fluent half-century. He complimented his senior partner with an innings that relied solidly on on-side play. He judged singles superbly and his half-century came up from 62 balls without a boundary.
When Mahbubul came back to bowl the 35th over, Masakadza dumped him over midwicket for six to go past his previous best of 87. Two balls after bringing up three figures, Masakadza was bowled for 102, but the final chapter of the innings was adrenalin-fueled. Taylor picked his first four in the 40th over, a deft late cut, and Chigumbura was quickly into his stride, slamming a six over long-on and slashing through point.
An amazing one-handed six over extra cover by Taylor followed as Shakib returned, prompting Zimbabwe to take the batting Powerplay after 44 overs. Hitting cleanly through the line with meaty power and excellent timing, Chigumbura had Bangladesh scurrying for cover as the tone of the game changed dramatically, despite Taylor's run out on 94. Whether it was pace or spin he backed his game, making room to hit through the line and depositing the ball over long-off and long-on. In the previous game, Chigumbura came down at No. 9 - today a promotion proved an excellent move.
Battered in the field, Bangladesh needed a commanding start but the top order's approach snuffed those hopes. Tamim Iqbal poked the first ball loosely to first slip, Naeem Islam lost his leg stump to a wild slog against Chigumbura and Mohammad Ashraful, for the umpteenth time, skied to third man. The pressure mounted on the in-form Shakib but it proved too much. Immediately after swinging Chigumbura for six, Shakib tried the aerial route only to top edge to point, leaving Raqibul and Mushfiqur Rahim to salvage an increasingly hopeless situation.
With 324 to win, Bangladesh had to take some chances and Raqibul enjoyed a slice of luck on 9 when Prosper Utseya dropped a tough catch at cover-point. Mushfiqur targeted Masakadza's gentle medium pace, going over the top for six and four in successive overs. It was an encouraging period of smart batting that briefly offered Bangladesh a glimmer of hope, as the pair added 68 at nearly a run a ball. Ray Price varied his pace to check the runs and the frustration resulted in Mushfiqur holing out to long-on, after which he took out Mahmudullah. Raqibul flayed the bat after crossing his sixth ODI fifty and Mahbubul picked up three successive sixes in a maiden half-century, but they were only delaying the inevitable.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo