HARARE (AFP) – Zimbabwe and Bangladesh begin Test cricket’s basement battle on Wednesday as the two teams look to measure their personal progress in a two-match series.
Although Zimbabwe have never lost a Test on home soil against Bangladesh, and beat them by 130 runs when the two sides last faced off in 2011, they come into this series dispirited after two heavy defeats in the West Indies and another player contract crisis.
By contrast, Bangladesh enjoyed an encouraging tour of Sri Lanka recently, when they posted their highest ever Test score and showed welcome signs of improvement.
The importance of the two Tests for cricket’s lowliest teams should not be underestimated.
“We’ve played most of our cricket against Bangladesh, so they’re the guys we use as our yardstick on whether we are improving or not,” Zimbabwe’s stand-in coach Stephen Mangongo said.
“It’s absolutely important for us to remain in the international arena and for people to respect us, and to be dignified we need to be beating guys like Bangladesh. Otherwise people will take us for a joke.”
Zimbabwe’s off-field problems have not helped them in this regard, with non-contracted players recently staging a two-day strike over poor pay.
Although the issue was resolved by the heavily-indebted board, the hosts will be without batsman Craig Ervine after he took up a deal to play club cricket in Ireland.
“Yes it’s affected us, but that’s life and you must buckle down and just get on with the job,” Mangongo said.
Zimbabwe will also be without fast bowler Christopher Mpofu, wicketkeeper Regis Chakabva and opening batsman Tino Mawoyo because of injury, meaning wicketkeeper-batsman Richmond Mutumbami could make his international debut.
Meanwhile Bangladesh will welcome allrounder Shakib Al Hasan back from injury, although he is likely to play the first Test only as a batsman.
Tamim Iqbal is rated a “50-50” chance of playing as he recovers from a broken thumb, but otherwise Bangladesh have a first-choice squad to pick from.
“This series will be a good measuring stick to see where we are at,” coach Shane Jurgensen said. “Sri Lanka was really important for us to perform overseas. We have always been a tough team at home but we did need to step up.
“Last year was a good year around one-day cricket for us, and that confidence and the way that we go about that is starting to move into other formats.”