Saturday, September 30, 2023

Five days of up & down

Only a handful turned up each day at the Harare Sports Club ground during the one-off Test. Cricket is still regarded as a sport that is undergoing a renaissance in this country and hence, the interest has been understandably low.
But for those who took the trouble of attending Zimbabwe’s first Test in six years were treated to an exquisite time at the city’s most happening place.
It was a Bangladesh-Zimbabwe encounter but at moments it had the thrill of an even higher contest. The drama of one team returning to Test cricket and of another which produces an emotion that is hard to control at every step made it into a unique battle.
The sudden-death nature of the game and the inability of batsmen from both sides to hold on to their innings further added to the fire.
It was only after Shakib Al Hasan got out during Bangladesh’s chase on the fifth and final day did the Test match settle into a predictable path with the home team wrapping up the game only a session and 15 minutes into the day. Otherwise, the game was a revelation; especially since the teams involved are perennial strugglers in the game’s most primitive format.
The beauty of Test cricket’s ebb and flow, nevertheless, came to the fore.
After Shakib won the toss and unsurprisingly decided to bowl first, the home side took quick control. Some termed Shakib’s decision to take Robiul Islam off the bowling attack a hasty one but it was the Tigers’ lack of aggressive body language that stood out. The day was dominated by the Zimbabweans, though as Shakib pointed out at the end of the day, they didn’t score as much as a team who lost only two wickets should have.
Bangladesh were playing their first Test match in 14 months and it was evident that they needed to adjust in terms of bowling lengths as well as their character.
That came in the form of Robiul, who became the Tigers’ inspiration on the second day with his marathon 12-over spell. He also took two key wickets as the home side collapsed in a heap. The Tigers, though, did not take full advantage as Brian Vitori’s leaping bounce put them in awkward positions.
The unlikely Ashraful stood out at that moment. The man whose place in the team was put into question even on the eve of the Test match came good with a patient 73, an adjective that is not easily associated with him.
Ashraful’s cat-and-mouse play, when it came to hitting boundaries and then defending good deliveries, was stimulating, though some would consider Zimbabwe’s bowling attack as too new to be called good enough.
But the likes of Vitori, Kyle Jarvis and Christopher Mpofu rarely bowled a bad spell in that first innings and promptly, they arranged for the lead. A Tigers fightback came through a great catch by the substitute Nasir Hossain but the next day, the vital fourth, belonged solely to Brendan Taylor.
The young Zimbabwe captain chose the perfect occasion to lead by example, hitting an unbeaten century that propelled them to a lead in excess of 350.
At that moment, the Test match could have taken a conventional path with the Zimbabweans batting some more and then giving Bangladesh an hour to deal with on the fourth evening.
But their think-tank decided to take a punt and they gave Tamim & co 30 overs to deal with. It was another classic session with the left-handed openers laying into the new boy, and giving him a verbal dose too.
Tamim’s next act — the off-field salvo — though roundly criticised, was a daring one that didn’t come off in the end.
It was the intricacies of a Test match that the Tigers’ had forgotten which came back to haunt them.
The only sad part of the affair was its length. Had this been more than just a sole Test, the grounds would have seen more people and yes, more drama could have spawned.
Instead, the move now is towards the one-day game and with promises of larger crowds and more interest, it offers to be another intriguing battle. Yet, nothing beats a good ol’ Test match.

-With The Daily Star input

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