Short fuse, long haul
A double-century in an ODI remains an elusive dream for batsmen. Fans are fascinated when a batsman has 200 in his sights, sparking 'Can he do it?' discussions. Several batsmen have neared the mark but fallen agonisingly short: Saeed Anwar probably had the best chance but was undone by the brutal May heat of Chennai, Sanath Jayasuriya's one-man demolition job in Sharjah ended 11 runs adrift, and Herschelle Gibbs had hotfooted to 175 as early as the 32nd over before holing out to long-on in the famous 438 game at the Wanderers.
In an unglamorous series in Bulawayo, a man with few credentials on the international stage, Charles Coventry, joined that illustrious list of nearly men. A masterfully paced knock in the fourth ODI against Bangladesh has catapulted him to the top of the most-runs-scored-in-an-innings chart, and this in his first series back with the senior side in more than three years.
He walked in after Zimbabwe had made their usual poor start, losing Mark Vermeulen in the second over. With the other opener Hamilton Masakadza, fresh from his maiden century on Friday, being watchful, it was left to Coventry to make sure the Powerplays were exploited.
After taking a few overs to settle in, he tore into Bangladesh's gentle medium-pacers. Coventry showed off his clean, uninhibited swing of the bat by clouting Mahbubul Alam over long-on, and then driving fiercely through mid-off. Syed Rasel was next in the firing line, glanced past fine leg for four, and then slashed through point for another boundary.
The spinners, Mahmudullah and Shakib Al Hasan, were also dispatched, but the wicket of Masakadza ended the carefree swinging and Coventry started looking for the singles. With fellow comeback men Brendan Taylor and Sean Williams also departing soon after, a phase of consolidation followed, where there was no boundary for 81 balls.
After dabbing and nudging the ball around until his century came up in the 37th over, Coventry started to go for his shots. It was only once the Powerplay was taken in the 45th that the record became a possibility. Enamul Haque jnr disappeared for 16 in that over, Shakib for 21 in the next and after 47, Coventry was on 180. A mighty six over his preferred long-on region took him to 189 with ten deliveries to spare, but he could only equal Anwar's mark because he got to face only four of those.
He walked off to a guard of honour from his team-mates, the supposed Twenty20 specialist showing them how to build an innings. "It's a great feeling," Coventry said immediately after his effort, before adding that he was "sure we can defend it."
That prediction didn't come to pass, thanks chiefly to another man not known for playing long, responsible innings, Tamim Iqbal. If Coventry's knock came after a middle-order collapse, Tamim's gem came in the face of a daunting target. There was plenty of similarities in both knocks; both players concentrated on hitting straight, both were smart in choosing when to hit out, and when to be restrained.
Tamim, in particular, has built a reputation for electric hitting but also as someone who squandered good starts as the large number of 20s and 30s in his CV demonstrate.He refrained from trying to bash every ball and was initially content playing second fiddle to the rampant Junaid Siddique. Even when Junaid was dismissed and Mohammad Ashraful was struggling to make runs, there was no impetuosity.
Tamim was past his half-century when he decided to target the inexperienced, part-time offspin of Malcolm Waller. He slammed straight sixes off consecutive deliveries, followed by a slash past point, and then reverted to hunting the singles and twos. During a steadying stand with Raqibul Hasan, he brought up his century in the 35th over. It was only Tamim's second hundred but his celebrations were muted, knowing that the task was still not accomplished.
After reaching triple digits, he and Shakib targeted getting a boundary early in every over, heaping the pressure onto the bowlers. He was finally dismissed for 154, the highest score by a Bangladeshi in an ODI, with his side well on the way to victory. Still, he was disappointed after the match, saying he would have preferred to be there till the end.
Bangladesh need more of that attitude if they are to graduate from being a side that occasionally surprises top teams into one that consistently challenges major opposition.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo