Published: Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Teletalk 3G Test Series

The team has to perform

The pitch at the Queens Sports Club has been the subject of significantly divergent opinion in the ongoing three-ODI series between Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, currently tied at 1-1 and the deciding match to be played today.
The consternation from the touring camp has been that it does not seem to be providing as much turn as it used to, with more grass on the wicket than there was before. Over the last few days Abdur Razzak, touring selector Minhazul Abedin and Mohammad Ashraful have all indicated that the pitch is a little different than the ones they encountered on previous visits.
But star all-rounder and the Tigers’ best spinner Shakib Al Hasan had a different take on the surface yesterday. “I don’t think the wicket is different from before, it is fine. Last time [during Bangladesh's last visit in August 2011] too the pacers got assistance in the morning,” said the left-hander.
Zimbabwe seamer Shingi Masakadza, as his captain had done before him after the second ODI, was of the same opinion. “I think the pitch is playing just the same. It’s still a good wicket to bat on,” he said, adding that there was early assistance for the seamers.
The pitch has assumed special importance because Bangladesh’s spinners, considered their main strength, have not had much joy on the surface. There is also a popular belief that Bangladesh’s success in Bulawayo — they won seven out of ten matches at the venue — depended largely on the success of the spinners.
A look back at the 2011 series when they won both matches does not bear this out. In the first match — the fourth of the series after the first three were played in Harare — Bangladesh asked Zimbabwe to bat and fast bowlers Rubel Hossain (4-31) and Shafiul Islam (2-47) had skittled Zimbabwe out for 199. In the second match Bangladesh were asked to bat and scored 253, before spinners Shakib, Mahmudullah Riyad and Abdur Razzak shared five wickets while the seamers took two as Zimbabwe crumbled to 160. Those two games are evidence that, as Shakib said, there was help for the seamers early on and that in 2011 too wickets were shared between seamers and spinners.
Shakib instead pointed at the new fielding restrictions as a reason for the spinners’ diminished success. “The one extra fielder inside the circle sometimes helps the seamers and sometimes hampers them, but it is a problem for the spinners. I am playing under this new system for the first time, and I think it’s a factor,” said Shakib, who because of injury had missed the Tigers’ ODI series against West Indies in November-December last year when the new restrictions were first introduced. “On top of that, it’s a good batting pitch, which makes it hard for the spinners to attack.”
Apart from the meagre returns for the spinners, Bangladesh’s top-order batting has been a concern. In both the matches they collapsed to 90-odd for four, after which it was hard for the lower and middle order to shepherd the team to a good score. “I think if one can stay at the wicket, scoring runs later will be easier. In both the matches we scored 80 runs in the last 10 overs. If we can keep wickets in hand then in the last 10 overs anything is possible. 270-plus if batting first is a good score here.”
The toss becomes important because of the help afforded seamers in the first hour. “If we play well there is a chance [to win the series]. The toss is important, but even if we don’t win the toss but bat well, especially the batsmen, then a big total is possible. If you have runs on the board then there is always pressure on the opposition,” added Shakib.
By the third match — with three out of four innings producing 250-plus scores — it is evident that this is a batting-friendly wicket. This is also the venue in which Zimbabwe chased down 328, against New Zealand no less. Only Nasir Hossain among Bangladesh’s top players have displayed some consistency, becoming the highest-scorer in the series so far with scores of 68 and 36. He will be important again today, but what is more important is that the top-order fire. On a good batting pitch, the superior firepower of the Tigers in the form of Shakib, Tamim Iqbal, Ashraful and Mushfiqur Rahim should bear the responsibility of winning the series — not just the spinners.