23 December 2011

Josh Taylor: My favourite game of 2011 – Zimbabwe v Bangladesh, Only Test

There was perhaps a question over height. However, there was never a question over whether or not Kyle Jarvis deserved his fourth wicket of the innings. Umpire Dhamasena raised his finger to trigger celebrations on the pitch and amongst those who had come to watch. Never before had a contest between the 9th and nominally 10th ranked test teams carried so much significance. Following five and a half years in a self-imposed exile for reasons not entirely cricket related, Zimbabwe returned to test cricket under the guidance of Alan Butcher and with a young, highly talented captain in Brendan Taylor.

Zimbabwe flag by Alpak
Though four Zimbabweans made their test debuts, including new ball pair Kyle Jarvis and Brian Vitori, a team unity was clearly visible, one that rose far above the turmoil and divisions of decades previous. This was a side selected on merit, eleven players incredibly proud to be the new faces of Zimbabwe cricket. Bangladesh’s captain Shakib al Hasan won the toss and after three nervous overs, including an unbelieveable missed run-out opportunity, Tino Mawoyo crashed three off-side boundaries off Robiul and Zimbabwe were away.

A century opening stand was followed by three figures for Hamilton Masakadza, a man almost ever-present in the side during the years in exile. Bangladesh clawed the innings back, taking 8-66 but on a Harare wicket showing movement in the air and off the pitch, 370 as a first innings looked imposing. And so it proved, as despite decent innings from Shakib and Mohammed ‘in-out-in-out’ Ashraful, debutant Vitori utilised left arm swing at pace to take 4 wickets and dismiss Bangladesh for 287.

Following a shaky start to the second innings, it seemed apt for Taylor to strike his maiden test century, removing all but the slimmest of hopes of a Bangladesh victory. A declaration at tea on the fourth day displayed how intent the home side were to win and despite some entertaining slogging from Abdur Razzak, the match was only going to end one way. Kyle Jarvis generated away swing to great effect, accounting for four batsmen including Robiul, to end the match.

It was a victory toasted not just in Zimbabwe but by most cricket supporters around the world. Much had been made of the plight of cricket in the country; a victim of political instability, of players departing for pastures new and of rapidly dwindling resources. People rightly hark back to the times of the Flower brothers, Campbell, Johnson, Streak, Olonga. Of course they were days to savour, but Butcher built this current side with the future very much in mind. To move on fully from troubled times is the best way for this ‘new’ test nation to progress, and the 4th to the 8th of August 2011 was the perfect first step.

As for Bangladesh, well they were always going to lose out on this tour. Had they won, they would have been dismissed as minnow bashers. On the other hand, a loss served only to amplify the voices querying their status as a test playing nation. Zimbabwe meanwhile went on to face rather more substantial tests against Pakistan and New Zealand, but nobody could suggest (well, except for Scyld Berry) that test cricket would be better off without them.

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You have just read a guest contribution by Josh Taylor, the friendly Hampshire squirrel from Clear Cricket. You can get in touch with Josh via Twitter (@halftracker) and Facebook (Clear Cricket: page, profile).


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