Zimbabwe are a cricket team in desperate need of context; Bangladesh, one that is aching for a return to normalcy and stability. Bangladesh’s first T20I match of the year, against an opponent they have dominated at home in recent years, should give them just the sort of soft landing they need in this tri-series ahead of what will likely be sterner challenges against Afghanistan, who are probably the favourites at this stage.
Hot on the heels of the Test defeat to Afghanistan, further ructions are at play in Bangladesh’s cricket system, with the Bangladesh Cricket Board set to take charge of the next edition of the BPL after a fallout with the team owners. Shakib Al Hasan has grown increasingly frustrated in his captaincy tenure, and the T20 World Cup is just a year away. A win over Zimbabwe will go some way towards calming everything down a little bit for Bangladesh.
Zimbabwe, of course, do not have any global tournament on the horizon to look forward to. They are still under suspension, and both the men’s and women’s sides lost their places at the T20 World Cup Qualifiers as a result. The suspension opened up divisions in their squad that are yet to fully heal.
Zimbabwe enter the series without one of their most accomplished players as Sikandar Raza has been left out for ‘disciplinary reasons’ – a curious catch-all phrase that is yet to be fully explained. Their head coach, Lalchand Rajput, admitted that Raza will undoubtedly be missed, but he also underscored that Zimbabwe are a team in transition, with their eyes on the future. What that means for Raza’s future remains to be seen. And with only three members of the squad aged 25 or under, and nine aged 30 or above, Zimbabwe do not appear to be in a huge rush to usher in a new era.
And first, they will say goodbye to the past. This series will be Hamilton Masakadza’s last in national colours. A long-time servant of the game, Masakadza has struggled a little of late, amid tumultuous times, and will be desperate for his last games as captain to be happy ones. So, surely, will Shakib.
(Last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Since his teenage Test hundred on debut 18 years ago, Hamilton Masakadza has summited several statistical peaks for his team, and he will go out playing a format in which he blazed a trail for his country, holding several Zimbabwean records. But the last year has been a lean one in all formats: he has passed fifty only once in internationals – during the Sylhet Test the last time Zimbabwe visited Bangladesh. Runs at the top of the order will provide a fitting finale, as well as vastly improving his team’s chances of success.
Shakib Al Hasan is Bangladesh’s leading wicket-taker in this format over the last year, and is only narrowly behind Liton Das as their leading T20I run-scorer over the same time period. Indeed, he is central to Bangladesh’s fortunes no matter the format, and in a sense the spotlight is always on him. Perhaps that is why he has become an increasingly reluctant captain. But there will be no let-up for him just yet, and Bangladesh will continue to look to Shakib as a leader with bat and ball, even if he doesn’t have the captain’s hat on.
Tamim Iqbal is still on R & R leave, so Bangladesh will have to cobble together a new opening pair for this series. But plenty of experience remains in the core of the middle order. There could be some new faces lower down, however, and Afif Hossain’s three quick wickets for the BCB XI on Wednesday could see him picked ahead of Mosaddek Hossain, while pace bowler Yeasin Arafat may be in line for a T20I debut.
Bangladesh (probable): 1 Liton Das, 2 Soumya Sarkar, 3 Sabbir Rahman, 4 Shakib Al Hasan (capt), 5 Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), 6 Mahmudullah, 7 Mohammad Saifuddin, 8 Afif Hossain, 9 Taijul Islam, 10 Mustafizur Rahman, 11 Yeasin Arafat
Brendan Taylor kept wicket in Zimbabwe’s warm-up match, and will likely take the gloves again, despite Zimbabwe having, somewhat bizarrely, two specialist wicketkeepers in the squad in Regis Chakabva and Richmond Mutumbami. The absence of Raza leaves a hole in the middle order but Timycen Maruma’s outing against the BCB XI in the tour opener means he should fill the vacant slot ahead of either of the wicketkeepers. Chris Mpofu, Zimbabwe’s leading wicket-taker in T20Is over the last year, didn’t get a bowl in the warm-up, so he may well be left out of the series opener.
Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Hamilton Masakadza (capt), 2 Brendan Taylor (wk), 3 Craig Ervine, 4 Sean Williams, 5 Timycen Maruma, 6 Ryan Burl, 7 Tino Mutombodzi, 8 Neville Madziva, 9 Kyle Jarvis, 10 Ainsley Ndlovu, 11 Tendai Chatara
Pitch and conditions
The T20 strip at the Shere Bangla Stadium has built a reputation for big scores in recent times: Bangladesh breached 200 here for the first time during West Indies’ visit in December last year. This should be a good track to bat on, while probably offering a little more to the spinners than it will the quicks.
While the track might be conducive to exciting cricket, the weather may not. Rain is forecast in Dhaka in the morning and the evening. This being an evening game, wet weather is likely to be around.
Stats that matter
Hamilton Masakadza’s 1529 runs in this format are the most by a Zimbabwean, and almost twice as many as the man below him on the list, Elton Chigumbura. He also holds the record for most fifties (10), and most runs in a series – the 222 he scored over four games in Bangladesh in 2015/16.
Craig Ervine is Zimbabwe’s leading run-scorer in this format over the last year, with 211 runs at an average of 70.33
The last time these two teams met in a T20 here, allrounder Neville Madziva inspired Zimbabwe to a win when Bangladesh seemingly had the match in the bag, spanking two sixes and a four in the final over to pull off a memorable heist
Bangladesh have won five of the nine T20Is between these two sides
Shakib Al Hasan is Bangladesh’s leading run-scorer and wicket-taker against Zimbabwe in this format, with 185 runs at 37.00 and 12 wickets at 17.50 against them