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Familiar foes face up

Bangladesh and Zimbabwe meet so often in one-dayers at the moment that they must be heartily sick of the sight of each other.

Habibul Bashar has been forced to defend his team's trip to Zimbabwe © AFP
Bangladesh and Zimbabwe meet so often in one-dayers at the moment that they must be heartily sick of the sight of each other. The four-match series which gets underway at Harare Sports Club on Sunday will be the third in six months, and the second in Zimbabwe. It's not that the two countries have any financial or geographical desire to play. The sad reality is that almost nobody else will slot them into their crowded schedules.
And so Bangladesh have made another grueling trip, via Doha and Johannesburg, to Harare. At least their travels end there as all four matches are being played at the one venue. Bulawayo, which usually gets a slice of the spoils, is off the itinerary. The country's desperate fuel shortages are a major factor in the equation. So little interest is there in the series that only this week was it confirmed that there would be television coverage, and even then only inside Zimbabwe. That's as long as viewers can follow the flow between power cuts.
The form guide suggests that Bangladesh should win this at a canter. The most recent meeting last December, in Bangladesh, ended in a 5-0 whitewash and since then Zimbabwe's fortunes have continued to plummet. They have now lost 12 ODIs on the trot and last week an A side in name, a virtuallyull side in reality, were hammered 3-0 by South Africa A.
It's not hard to see why it's hard for players to get motivated. Inflation has eroded their salaries to the extent they are barely worth collecting, and although the board is widely reported to be broke, many associated with it continue to enjoy a high standard of living.
Bangladesh, meanwhile, are on something of a roll. They have won 12 of their last 14 ODIs and have an air of quiet confidence about them. They will be aware that when they visited Zimbabwe last August they came unstuck and lost the series 3-2. Since then the two countries' fortunes have gone in completely opposite directions.
"I do not believe that Zimbabwe are a weak side, as said by most people but they I think they will actually help us develop our game," said Habibul Bashar, Bangladesh's captain, on arrival in town yesterday. "Look at what has been happening to us since we started playing them. If they were a weak side then what would be the point in being here at all for any matches?" A good question.
The slow home pitches and the altitude will give Zimbabwe a boost, but their form with the bat, which effectively won them the series last August, is a worry. In their last eight matches they have passed 200 once, and their bowlers just don't seem to have the firepower to bowl sides out.
For both, this is their final serious World Cup warm-up. Two thousand kilometers to the north in Nairobi the leading Associates are batting it out for the right to be considered the best of the rest. While none of them can seriously expect to overtake Bangladesh in the cricketing hierarchy, the disintegrating Zimbabweans are in their sights. Unless something dramatic happens in Harare, the next week will be another blow for the game here.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo