Zimbabwe 228 for 6 (Ervine 107, Masvaure 64, Nayeem 4-68) v Bangladesh
On an attritional first day's play in Mirpur, two men stood head and shoulders above everyone else on the field as Zimbabwe compiled 228 for 6. Craig Ervine was the glue in Zimbabwe's middle order, compiling the fourth hundred by a visiting captain at this ground, and one that mixed studied defence with some exotic strokeplay. For Bangladesh, Nayeem Hasan twirled tirelessly through 36 overs to take 4 for 68, repeatedly pegging Zimbabwe back whenever they threatened to take control.
Both men were somewhat fortunate to find themselves in their respective positions: Ervine is captaining Zimbabwe for the first time in this game only because regular skipper Sean Williams stayed at home to be present for the birth of his daughter, while an out-of-sorts Mehidy Hasan's absence from the playing XI opened the door for Nayeem to seize his opportunity.
Mehidy has been off-colour since taking 15 wickets against West Indies at home in 2018, after which he took six wickets in four Tests last year. He missed the Rawalpindi Test earlier this month due to an injury, and was subsequently dropped for the first time in a home Test since he made his debut against England in 2016. This gave, Nayeem, who took 13 wickets last week in a first-class match, his chance. His second delivery dipped and gripped to beat a groping Ervine's outside edge, and he troubled everyone in Zimbabwe's top order with fizz, bounce and an unerring line almost throughout.
It was a sharp piece of fielding from Nayeem that brought Ervine to the crease this morning, Abu Jayed finding reward during a disciplined opening spell with the dismissal of opener Kevin Kasuza in the eighth over after Zimbabwe had won the toss. Three overs later, Nayeem started a spell that would stretch on for a full 36 overs through the day, and an absorbing battle between the offspinner and the left hander began to unfold.
Ervine certainly didn't have it all his own way, Nayeem teasing his outside edge on several occasions early on, with leading edges flying through - and over - cover and point. Between times, however, Ervine held firm and his response to the sight of significant turn and bounce even from a fresh, uncharacteristically grassy track was to unfurl a succession of sweeps both orthodox and reverse.
Taijul Islam bore the brunt of his early strokeplay, leaking 43 runs from his first seven overs, and Zimbabwe surged ahead as Bangladesh turned ragged in the field, missing three chances - one of them very tough, but two clear drops - in the space of three overs. With Prince Masvaure well set at the other end, having compiled a competent half-century, Ervine sensed an opportunity to go on the offensive, slashing Abu Jayed for three boundaries, some more convincing and deliberate than others, in the space of an over.
The quick runs pushed Ervine and Masvaure's partnership beyond 100, but Nayeem struck back with the vital dismissal of Masvaure, bending low to hold a drive slammed firmly back at him. Yet another sweep off Taijul took Ervine to fifty at the other end, but Nayeem once again put the brakes on Zimbabwe by dismissing Brendan Taylor via a slightly fortuitous inside-edged reverse sweep.
At 134 for 3, the innings was in the balance, and Nayeem kept threatening further breakthroughs, with iffy strokes aplenty against his probing bowling. While Taijul continued to mix tight deliveries with freebies, failing to bowl a single maiden throughout the day, Nayeem changed his line of attack to a settled Sikandar Raza. Coming around the stumps, he had Raza playing for turn as the ball rushed on with the arm, a thin edge being safely snaffled by Liton Das behind the stumps.
With Timycen Maruma focused on survival, Ervine continued to take the attack to the bowlers, stepping out to crunch Nayeem back over his head and cruising through the 80s with a pair of bruising thumps through the covers off Jayed. After a brief rest, Nayeem resumed his battle with Zimbabwe's captain, drawing some fidgety pokes outside off as he entered the 90s.
Having used one review to good effect, Maruma wasted another when he was trapped plumb infront by Jayed shortly before Bangladesh took the second new ball. Ervine, meanwhile, was equally at home against the new pill as he was the old, flaying Abu Jayed once again through the covers and then moving to 99 with a pair of sweeps off Nayeem.
A glance off Ebadat Hossain took Ervine to three figures, but it was Nayeem - who else? - who finally won the battle. In the penultimate over of the day, he followed up a loopy floater with a zippy quicker one that rushed through Ervine's tired defence, castling him for 107.
While the teams had stayed pretty much neck and neck throughout the day, with the advantage shifting back and forth, Nayeem's late strike tilted the balance in Bangladesh's favour. Just one frontline batsman, Regis Chakabva, remains for the visitors. Bangladesh will go into day two fancying their chances of quickly rolling the tail over, while Nayeem while have his eye on a five-wicket haul and a milestone of his own to match Ervine's.