The line between success and failure can be cruelly thin in cricket. The difference between a no-ball and a legitimate delivery, a four and a six, or a grounded catch and a clean one is a matter of millimetres, and Zimbabwe learned as much in their tour opener in Bangladesh. The visitors had done a lot right in their opening salvo with the ball, but they came down on the wrong side of that narrowing line in the moments that really mattered.
That made all the difference in a game during which the ascendancy swung frequently between two sides who have become very well accustomed to each other in the last decade. Zimbabwe nipped out six wickets inside the first 30 overs, but Imrul Kayes and Mohammad Saifuddin plundered 85 from the last ten, including seven fours and four sixes.
Cephas Zhuwao then launched Zimbabwe chase with a rapid 35, but by the time the visitors had faced half their overs, they were five down and the match turned once again, and this time decisively in Bangladesh's favour. Zimbabwe captain Hamilton Masakadza rued the missed opportunities at crucial points of the game after his side slipped to a 28-run defeat.
"With the way the game panned out, we played really well but there were a couple of turning points in the game," said Masakadza. "If those had gone our way it would have been a totally different game."
Zimbabwe might have had one of those go in their favour had Brandon Mavuta been able to hold onto a chance at deep square leg when Imrul had just seven runs to his name. Instead, the ball slipped through his hands and went for four, and Kayes continued merrily on to a career-best 144.
Zimbabwe then saw another opportunity slip from their grasp in the 31st over of the innings. Kyle Jarvis had just taken his third wicket in the space of two overs and Bangladesh seemed hopelessly adrift at 139 for 6. Donald Tiripano found the edge of Saifuddin's bat, and the ball looped low towards Craig Ervine at first slip. The catch was held, but immediately the umpires conferred and, crucially, the soft signal from Kumar Dharmasena was not out.
That meant that third umpire Rod Tucker had to find conclusive evidence that the catch was taken cleanly in order to reverse the decision, but innumerable replays offered little clarity, and Saifuddin survived. He went on to add 127 with Kayes, a new Bangladesh record for the seventh wicket.
"It's fine lines," said Masakadza. "I felt if that catch had been given, that definitely would have been a turning point. But it's fine lines in cricket. Sometimes you get those, sometimes you don't, and today we didn't get it and that set us on the back foot."
Zimbabwe have been on the back foot an awful lot this year, having lost eleven ODIs in a row, and Bangladesh have now won the last eleven ODIs between the two sides as well. Zimbabwe's batting is in a particularly low rut: in their last nine games, they have been bowled out short of 50 overs seven times.
The signs aren't all bad. Seven batsmen got into the 20s during their chase, making starts and getting themselves in, but no one was able to last the distance besides Sean Williams. Masakadza is hoping Zimbabwe can start solving big problems by solving little ones, starting by breaking their batting and bowling efforts into ten-over chunks and focusing on stringing those together.
"We just need to make sure we win a few more blocks of ten [overs] than we did today, and push on a little more than we did today," he said. "The guys played well at the death to get us that close. I didn't really think we'd get up to where we got to. We lost that last block of ten quite badly, which really set us back. If we had bowled a little better at the death, we wouldn't have been chasing so many. We won the [first ten overs] in the batting, but we lost the one in the bowling by too far."