Ervine makes his opportunity in Test cricket count

Craig Ervine acknowledges the applause after reaching his century BCB

The reality of being a Test cricketer from one of the lower ranked sides is the paucity of long-format matches. Since Zimbabwe re-admitted themselves to Test cricket in 2011, they've played only 27 Tests, including the ongoing one against Bangladesh. And Craig Ervine was playing only his 18th Test in nine years.

Ervine was thus in the position of being an experienced player, but with very little game-time, and he was walking in to bat in the eighth over in his first Test as captain. He had to survive a disciplined start by the Bangladesh pacers, before having to thwart the off-spin of Nayeem Hasan for much of the rest of the day.

Ervine reached his third Test century in the third session, having batted for five hours and 15 minutes, putting on important partnerships with Prince Masvaure and threatening to take the game away from Bangladesh with the aggressive Brendan Taylor and Sikander Raza at the crease, briefly. Ervine at one end gives strokeplayers a wonderful foil.

Ervine, who struck 13 fours in his 227-ball knock, later reckoned that his late dismissal, to an absolute peach from Nayeem, probably handed Bangladesh the advantage.

"I think myself getting out towards the end tipped the scales a little bit," Ervine said. "It would have been nice to come to bat tomorrow with Regis Chakabva, two recognised batsmen. Donald Tiripano is still handy with the bat. It is up to him and Chakabva to get through the first session."

The Zimbabwe captain reckoned the pitch at the Shere Bangla National Stadium took them by surprise because it wasn't the usually rough and sticky surface where the ball tends to grip and turn from midway through the first day. "We were very surprised that the wicket was quite good. Some people say it is hard to predict what's going to happen in Dhaka. I think that's why Bangladesh are a little bit ahead because it was such a good wicket and we lost six wickets," he said.

Bangladesh bowled well, particularly Nayeem who chugged along in a 32-over marathon spell from the Mirpur Thana end. Ervine, however, was up to the task, hitting nine of his thirteen fours through the off-side although the majority of his runs came on the leg-side. He found the area behind square on the off-side to his liking, using not just slashes and cuts, but also bringing out the reverse sweep to negate the spinners, who had been bowling consistently throughout the day.

"I tried to use my reverse sweep and the lap, not the full sweep. I felt they were very consistent with their areas, so if you don't have a plan B to get off strike, it is a very long day for you. I think you need to have a few back-up shots to be able to get off strike and keep the scoreboard ticking.

"I don't think it was a conscious effort [to go after Taijul]. We didn't expect the wicket to be this good today. It played pretty well. I think it was just trying to find the balance of being positive and being good in defense," he said.

Ervine, a quiet and steadying influence in the change-room, has been known as a towering presence in Zimbabwe's cricket circles for quite some time, and more or less a fixture in the national team for the last seven years or so. While he doesn't have quite the aura of Taylor, or the crowd-pulling pizzazz of Raza, he's done the job for Zimbabwe on multiple occasions. He might not ooze flair, but he's consistent in both Tests and ODIs.

And that consistency isn't just needed in the field, because Ervine, like most Test players from lower ranked countries, needs to maintain that same level of consistency and concentration in sudden bursts. Test innings like these come once in a while only, so the value that cricketers like Ervine possess hardly ever comes into the limelight. Only they know how tough it is to come up with the goods after sitting for months and years, waiting for their next Test match.