Salute Zimbabwe

Bangladesh are currently engaged in a 5-match ODI series in Zimbabwe, and are trailing 2-0. There are three matches to go starting with today’s 3rd ODI, so there is an outside chance of the Tigers bouncing back. But for Bangladesh cricket fans it may actually be wiser to support Zimbabwe today.
The extent to which Bangladesh have so far been outclassed by a team who have basically spent the last six years in the cricketing wilderness has shocked even those among the team’s harshest critics. Since September 2005 until the recent one-off Test against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe were on a self-imposed exile from Test cricket.
In the one-off Test, Bangladesh were hammered by 130 runs, which is bad in itself, but what was worse was the way in which the team that totalled 29 Tests to their opponents’ zero over the last six years were made to look like underdogs. It was Zimbabwe who were bowling to a plan, keeping up the pressure from both ends, fielding athletically and building multiple century partnerships (3 to Bangladesh’s nought). Bangladesh, on the other hand were sluggish on the field, clueless about taking wickets and building innings, let alone partnerships. If one did not know the background, there would be a very clear answer to who the underdogs were; and it would not be Zimbabwe.
Off the field, though, it is pretty obvious as to which side consider themselves the favourites, the bigger draw. Tamim Iqbal’s “ordinary” comment less than an hour after being castled by the splendid Brian Vitori in the second innings of the Test had echoes of Virender Sehwag’s comments about Bangladesh a year and a half ago. The difference was that India went on to win the ensuing Test by a convincing margin.
Even more relevant to the state of the team is Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor’s comments regarding Tamim’s salvo: “We always get negative comments from the Bangladesh side and that inspires us.” If Taylor’s words are to be believed, this should be cause for alarm, because it betrays a lack of respect for lower-ranked opposition. Underestimating any opposition is courting disaster, because then a team ceases to rely on themselves and begins to count on their opponents’ ineptitude; the result of that attitude seems to be playing itself out in Zimbabwe.
And so the trend has carried over into the ODIs. Bangladesh look a distant second to Zimbabwe’s brand of aggressive and alert cricket. In both matches so far, the spirited Zimbabweans have blown their hesitant opponents out of the water, with Vitori in particular dazzling with his brisk pace and controlled movement revealing an old head on young shoulders. There are three ODIs remaining, but it should be no surprise if Zimbabwe dominate those too because they have already proven their superiority in the sport’s most comprehensive format — the Test.
Such a situation, in which a team going in as clear favourites are hammered from pillar to post by the supposed underdogs, should induce the game’s stakeholders to take a good look at themselves and their activities. The Tigers have continually kept failing at Test cricket, with three victories in 69 matches. Surely it has to do something with the sorry state of first-class cricket in this country. Last season, there was only one first-class game in the National Cricket League before it was shelved in order to allow the Tigers to prepare for the World Cup (time well spent).
Questions have also to be asked about the issues within the team. Why wasn’t the captain there at the two-day camp under new coach Stuart Law before the tour started? It may not have had a bearing on the ongoing tour as Zimbabwe seem much the better team anyway, but what it does show is that some in the team seem to enjoy special concessions when it comes to matters of discipline. Is that the best way to run an international cricket team?
And regarding on-field issues, why are Bangladesh not able to produce a quality pace bowling line-up when Zimbabwe seem to have theirs ready even after six years in the wilderness? Bangladesh’s spinners, with the exception of the excellent Shakib Al Hasan, are cannon fodder for batsmen on unhelpful pitches. At the centre of it all is a board that panders too readily to public sentiment and shies away from harsh but necessary measures.
Having said all that, in the unlikely scenario that Bangladesh manage to win the next three ODIs, all this will be swept under the carpet because they would return victorious in the end, and the cliches about how sometimes there are bad days in cricket will be trotted out.
And that is why Bangladeshis today should root for Zimbabwe, not because they deserve it — they richly do — but for the sake of some much needed soul-searching that will only happen if the Tigers come back with tails between their legs.

-With The Daily Star input

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