I am writing after the first day's play of the First Test match between Zimbabwe and Bangladesh at Dhaka. There is plenty of food for thought here, with Bangladesh 107 all out and Zimbabwe 20 for two at the close.
It would appear that the pitch has played a major part in the proceedings; it was apparently still damp after rain when play finally began just before lunch, but I have not yet read any reports of its condition later in the day. The scores would seem to indicate that it was still very much in favour of the bowlers.
In such circumstances, fate invariably seems to decree that the stronger side should win the toss, and Zimbabwe for once qualified, putting the unfortunately Bangladeshis in to bat and bowling them out cheaply. They had them 76 for nine at one stage, but `let them off the hook' as the last-wicket pair took the total to 107, just beating the 103 by Pakistan at Peshawar that remains the lowest Test total against Zimbabwe.
Travis Friend, with five wickets for 31 runs off 18 overs, had a day to remember and must have thought Christmas had come early at the start, when he bowled over after over with only the odd single taken off him, in contrast to the succession of thundering boundaries that seem to greet his opening spells in one-day internationals. Zimbabwe's bowlers, helped by the conditions and the inexperience of the opposition, did their job for once.
Barring more rain, batting conditions should have improved in time for the second day, enabling Zimbabwe to build a match-winning total - but it never does to take anything for granted with Zimbabwe.
Bangladesh clearly haven't learnt the psychology of Test cricket, according to some of the match previews I read. It was stated that their main aim, after losses in all their first five Test matches, was to secure a draw. I read no mention of the traumatic time Zimbabwe are having and the fact that Bangladesh have home advantage.
What they said was realistic enough, but Bangladesh should have tried a more confident approach, for their own sakes. They might well have stated their determination to take advantage of their home conditions, which all non-Asian teams find difficult in the subcontinent, and that they were taking on a team that seemed to have lost its way. The odds would still have been against them but, the way Zimbabwe have been playing over the past few months, nobody could guarantee them victory, even over Bangladesh.
Zimbabwe for their part went into the tour confident in their ability to overcome Bangladesh, despite these two disadvantages. Confidence is a major factor in Zimbabwe's performances, and they are still too close to the bottom to take victory for granted easily, even over Bangladesh. They should still win, but Bangladesh have reason to show a little more confidence than they have displayed so far.
Last weekend saw the Zimbabwe Board XI open their campaign for promotion to the SuperSport Series in South Africa with two victories over North West B. I am sorry to spoil the party, but I don't think they were very convincing. The Board XI played seven international players in their team, against the B side (the `B' is often conveniently forgotten) of one of South Africa's less renowned provinces, one which only came into existence as Western Transvaal ten years ago.
The team won the three-day match by three wickets, only taking charge in the final innings run chase. They won the one-day match by ten wickets, which sounds most convincing until it is realized that they only dismissed two of the opposition on a pitch so flat that only six batsmen had an innings all day - `two wickets' would be a more realistic victory margin. Still, a win is a win, but South African administrators looking for an excuse to keep the Board XI out of the SuperSport Series next season will remain unconvinced. We need to be more dominant than this, especially with stronger opposition coming up.
Larry Moyo writes a review of this match, while Brighton Watambwa, one of the players, presents his viewpoint and also talks about an eventful year for him, containing a Test debut, success at Test level and then three successive injuries. Of the other injured pace bowlers, Bryan Strang has just started bowling in club cricket again and hopes to be ready for next week's Board XI matches, while Andy Blignaut is also reported to be nearly fit again.
They should be available for national selection again in time for the Indian tour in the New Year, although probably not for Sri Lanka next month. As long as they don't get injured again!
We also have a biography of Charles `Chappie' Coventry, who was Zimbabwe's youngest ever first-class player, hopes to join the CFX Academy next year and scored 155 in club cricket last weekend. Besides our usual provincial and club reports, on the statistical side we have updated one-day international records after the Sharjah tournament.