Bantamweights in the Basement

The streets of Dhaka, dusty, polluted and (in recent weeks) blockaded, may seem a far cry from the Gabba and a clash between the supposed colossi of world cricket, but a sizeable degree of importance still rests on Zimbabwe’s visit to Bangladesh. Here the prize is not an urn steeped in history and prestige, nor does it carry the tag of a world championship bout. The reward for winning here, it appears, is nothing; the punishment for losing is demotion to effectively the foot of world cricket. It is a loser-takes-all contest, an unwanted undercard to be fought in the media’s shadows.

Since Zimbabwe are still in self-exposed exile from the Test arena, the tour currently consists of five one-day internationals, from November 30 to December 9, preceded by the first ever Twenty20 international to be held in the subcontinent on 28 November in Khulna. The Africans will have just one warm-up match against a strong Bangladesh Cricket Board XI on 26 November. However, to facilitate a Zimbabwean re-entry into Test cricket, two first-class fixtures have also been arranged: a three-day match beginning December 11 and a four-day game from December 15.

Bangladesh squad for first three ODIs
Habibul Bashar (captain), Shahriar Nafees (vice-captain), Khaled Mashud (wicket-keeper), Aftab Ahmed, Saqibul Hasan, Farhad Reza, Mehrab Hossain jnr, Tushar Imran, Mohammad Rafique, Abdur Razzak, Mashrafe Mortaza, Syed Rasel, Shahadat Hossain.

Bangladesh squad for Twenty20 international
Shahriar Nafees (captain), Mushfiqur Rahim (wicket-keeper), Aftab Ahmed, Farhad Reza, Mehrab Hossain jnr, Nazmus Sadat, Nadif Chowdhury, Mohammad Rafique, Saqibul Hasan, Mashrafe Mortaza, Abdur Razzak, Shahadat Hossain, Tapash Baisya.

Zimbabwe squad
Prosper Utseya (captain), Brendan Taylor (wicket-keeper), Tino Mawoyo, Gary Brent, Chamu Chibhabha, Elton Chigumbura, Keith Dabengwa, Ryan Higgins, Anthony Ireland, Blessing Mahwire, Hamilton Masakadza, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Christopher Mpofu, Mulenki Nkala, Sean Williams.

Although Bangladesh lost 3-2 in Zimbabwe last August, their home advantage and greater experienced make them clear favourites this time around. The batting order can look disjointed at times and there is precious little depth to the seam bowling resources, but the combination of real talent and quality spin bowling should see off Zimbabwe, as was demonstrated in their Champions Trophy qualifying stage meeting just under two months ago.

The dropping of Mohammad Ashraful is a clear sign of the progression of Bangladeshi cricket over the past couple of years. Up to very recently certain players, Ashraful among them, were being selected based purely on historic performances; with queues of batsmen forming from the representative sides and domestic cricket, talent alone is not enough. Following a run of poor form, Ashraful was dumped and replaced by Tushar Imran. The selectors then got the response they wanted: Ashraful smashed a career best 263 for Dhaka just two days later.

On the other hand, Zimbabwe’s options are rapidly diminishing and there is a sense that some players are undroppable simply because there is no-one to take their place. The batting relies heavily on Brendan Taylor, who struck a last ball six against the Tigers in August to clinch Zimbabwe the third ODI, while the bowling is fragmented with an over-reliance on part-time spin. Mlue
leki Nkala, a promising player on Test debut against England in 2000, has re-emerged to bolster the seam attack, but there is still a heavy dependence on Prosper Utseya’s off breaks, particularly on the sub-continent.

Around a month after the end of the monsoon season, Bangladeshi pitches are more conducive to seam bowling than they are for the rest of the year, but slow bowling is still likely to determine the outcome of the series. Large totals are improbable on the slow, low surfaces, so it will rest on Rafique, Razzak and Utseya to choke the opposition and create the mad panic that often spreads through the two sides. Ultimately Bangladesh’s class should show through – who would have thought that statement could be said without a hint of sarcasm two years ago?

Cricket Web’s Players to Watch

Bangladesh: Mohammad Rafique
Possibly the best slow-left arm bowler in the subcontinent, Rafique’s experience should be vital in squeezing false shots from Zimbabwe’s batsmen. Expect Rafique to work in tandem with the two other left-arm spinners in the side, Abdur Razzak and Saqibul Hasan, to create pressure and lift the required rate. On the slow pitches his big-hitting should also provide a useful injection of pace into the latter half of the innings and he is likely to be pushed up the batting order for the Twenty20 game.

Zimbabwe: Brendan Taylor
Following Tatenda Taibu’s departure from the Zimbabwean cricket scene last year, Brendan Taylor inherited the wicket-keeper’s gloves and mantle of his country’s only real international class batsman. His role in the middle-order will be crucial at holding together his less experienced colleagues, although Taylor is only 20 himself. Taylor’s battle against the Bangladeshi spinners could determine the amount of success Zimbabwe will derive from the series, even if producing a victory proves to be too big a job for one batsman alone.

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