Zimbabwe completed a remarkable turnaround to snatch a victory in their first Test of the year, having endured a torrid, winless streak in limited-overs cricket since the World Cup Qualifiers in March. While their white-ball cricket has suffered from inconsistent performances, the change in format against Bangladesh came along with successful contributions in virtually every department. Here are the six key factors that set up Zimbabwe's first away win in 17 years:
Regis Chakabva's wicketkeeping
Regis Chakabva hasn't played an ODI for Zimbabwe in three years but he's a Test regular, having played in nine of their last 13 games, and is widely regarded as one of the finest wicketkeepers in the country. Chakabva kept himself busy playing club cricket in Kent's Premier League over the English summer while Zimbabwe were playing limited-overs cricket, taking 13 catches and three stumpings for Sandwich Town while also topping their batting tables with three centuries. He didn't appear the slightest bit rusty at the top level during Zimbabwe's 151-run win in Sylhet. He batted out 150 balls to stretch Zimbabwe's two innings but, as would be hoped of a specialist 'keeper, he also put in a quality performance behind the stumps. He let just 11 byes past him over the whole Test and took six catches, three of those off the spinners in conditions where the ball turned and bounced prodigiously.
The seamers' control
Everyone thought the Sylhet surface would turn, and it did, but Zimbabwe gained their first advantage with the ball through the fast bowlers. The combination - or 'synergy', as bowling coach Douglas Hondo put it - of Kyle Jarvis and Tendai Chatara brought six wickets in the match but, perhaps even more importantly, their discipline and control with new and old ball allowed Zimbabwe to keep themselves in the hunt even when when wickets weren't coming. Their early spells on the second day turned the game, setting up Zimbabwe's first-innings lead of 139, and they kept things tight thereafter, racking up a combined 13 maidens and not conceding a single no-ball or wide.
Success against left-arm spin
Suggesting that Zimbabwe's success had anything to do with how they combated the home spinners when those spinners shared 19 wickets in the game might at first appear to be a bit of a tough sell, but consider this: Taijul Islam had to toil for more than 68 overs for his 11-wicket match haul, and Zimbabwe's patience with the bat meant they were able to stretch their two innings out for more than 182 overs in total. The collapses against spin that have haunted their previous tours to Bangladesh were staved off by a willingness to play patient, attritional cricket, and the first-innings contributions from Sean Williams and Peter Moor were exemplary in this regard. Both are natural strokemakers, but they dug in to face 173 and 192 deliveries each in the first innings, setting up the rest of the match after Zimbabwe had opted to bat first at the toss.
Winning the toss
Speaking of the toss, on a pitch that turned almost from the first day, this was a lucky one to win - particularly as the coin has not been falling in captain Hamilton Masakadza's favour recently. He called incorrectly three times in a row in the preceding ODIs, contributing to the severity of Zimbabwe's defeats as they had to deal with evening dew, and also saw the coin fall on the wrong side three times out of five on their previous tour to South Africa in October. That he got it right this time around meant Bangladesh were left facing the daunting task of batting last, bringing Zimbabwe's spin attack right into the game on a wearing fourth-day pitch.
The spinners' incisions
With allrounders Sikandar Raza and Sean Williams in their line-up, alongside debutants Brandon Mavuta and Wellington Masakadza, Zimbabwe had a varied, spin-heavy attack to wear Bangladesh down, and then knock them out. While Williams' golden arm was used sparingly, Raza was a workhorse, bowling 17 overs in a row during a marathon two-hour spell on the fourth morning and collecting six wickets in the game. When Mavuta and Masakadza struggled for rhythm in the first innings, Zimbabwe had the cushion of their experienced spinners to fall back on, and Raza's hard work in the second innings was a major factor in the build-up of pressure that allowed Mavuta and Masakadza to shine on the final afternoon.
Bangladesh's batting woes
Bangladesh's capitulation for 169 in the second innings marked the eighth successive Test innings in which they failed to reach 200, but what really stands out is how their batting malaise is only a feature in Tests. Bangladesh's batsmen have had a fantastic year, just not in this format, and having played 12 ODIs since August, it soon became apparent that they were still batting in one-day mode in their first innings four days ago, something that Chatara said Zimbabwe had been expecting. Balls that might easily have been left alone instead brought wickets, and when the going got tough on day four, wickets tumbled amid a flurry of shots. The patience with which Zimbabwe had gone about their batting was completely lacking.
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town