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Match Analysis

Unlikely spin trio gives Zimbabwe reason to cheer

They were without their best spinner, Graeme Cremer, but two debutants and a batting allrounder more than made up for his absence

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Brandon Mavuta exults after taking a wicket  •  Getty Images

Brandon Mavuta exults after taking a wicket  •  Getty Images

Brandon Mavuta, Wellington Masakadza and Sikandar Raza came down the stairs together soon after Zimbabwe's initial celebrations ended in their Sylhet dressing room. As the two youngsters gave interviews, Raza got himself a cup of sweet tea from Bullu bhai. Not long after, the three got together again and joked around. It was hard to tell the age difference between them.
The three of them had made for an effective spin attack, taking 12 of the 19 Bangladesh wickets that went to the bowlers. They were bowling on a slightly helpful pitch where the two quicks, Kyle Jarvis and Tendai Chatara, had exerted early control over the Bangladesh batsmen. The Zimbabwe spinners were bowling at a batting line-up that had not put together a 200-plus score in a Test innings since February.
In the second innings, after Raza removed three of the home side's top four batsmen, Mavuta and Masakadza nipped out the remaining six wickets. What blew Bangladesh away was nothing out of the ordinary. It was just legspin and left-arm spin, a weird mix of Bangladesh's bane and staple, from two debutants, and offspin from a batting allrounder who was considered a part-timer even three years ago.
Zimbabwe were without Graeme Cremer, which for them was as big a blow as Bangladesh missing Shakib Al Hasan.
Mavuta didn't fully make up for Cremer's absence, but he picked up 4 for 21 in the second innings, the third-best innings figures by a Zimbabwe debutant. He would have gained a lot of confidence from his display, since it came after a difficult ODI series, and particularly since it came in a historic win for his side.
"I think the adjustment from South Africa to Bangladesh required a lot of hard work," Mavuta told ESPNcricinfo. "I am happy that it came out nicely in the Test match. The length is actually different from South Africa. It is a good spinning wicket, it doesn't really bounce. You have to be on your work. They play spin better than South Africans so that was the massive difference. It is a great feeling.
"The only difficulty I faced was that I did not really know how much it is going to turn. You don't know how much revs you have to put on the ball. You have to land in the right area and let the wicket do the rest. But it has boosted my confidence. It is a great feeling doing well on your debut."
Coach Lalchand Rajput said his message to the young spinners was to stick to what they know best. "Mavuta did exceptionally well in South Africa, but he didn't have a good series here in the one-dayers," he said. "I knew that as a legspinner he's a match-winner. The only message was that he has to bowl his normal spin and not try to flight the ball too much. On a fourth-day wicket, you just have to put it in the right area."
Mavuta removed Nazmul Hossain Shanto first, with an innocuous delivery that the left-hander bunted to the cover fieldsman. His real battle was with Mushfiqur Rahim, who was happy to sweep the legspinner. But soon after lunch, he was undone by a bit of bounce and couldn't keep the shot along the ground, giving Masakadza a low catch at deep square-leg.
Mavuta had done the trick for his captain, and he would go on to add Mehidy Hasan Miraz and Nazmul Islam to his wickets column. Masakadza removed Taijul Islam and then took last wicket, of Ariful Haque.
In the Dhaka Test, the unlikely trio of spinners will have another opportunity to show Zimbabwe a window to their Test future. Winning abroad is a big step and while it arrived in surprising fashion in Sylhet, Zimbabwe have the opportunity to build on that performance. They don't play a lot of Test cricket but the performances of Mavuta and Masakadza, in particular, should give them the confidence that they can keep competing.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84