While Ntini is expected to start his two-year tenure next month, Atapattu will be with the side during its four-match Twenty20 International series in Bangladesh before his long-term association with the team is discussed. And Zimbabwe could do well to start its preparation for the world event by putting up a good show in the first T20I against Bangladesh at the Sheikh Abu Naser Stadium in Khulna ().
Zimbabwe’s biggest concern has been its lack of consistency, which was exposed during its recent One-Day International and T20I series losses to Afghanistan in Sharjah.
While it did well to come back in the ODIs to win two matches, it gave up under pressure in the series-deciding fifth game when it failed to defend 248 after reducing Afghanistan to 146 for 6 at one stage.
In the first T20I, it failed to keep a check on Afghanistan’s scoring rate, and then could not construct the chase of 189 in the right fashion. That Zimbabwe managed to keep the margin of defeat to only five runs was largely because of some intelligent batting by Malcolm Waller and two clean hits by Luke Jongwe in the final over when it needed 21 runs to win.
In the second game, a spirited Mohammad Shahzad left very little scope for deliberation as his unbeaten 118 set up Afghanistan’s series-clinching 81-run win.
Zimbabwe clearly missed the services of Tinashe Panyangara, who continues to be out of the team because of an injury. The team, however, has shown that when it comes together as a unit, it could be a potent force, like in a T20I win over India and an ODI win over New Zealand at home last year.
It would be looking to draw inspiration from those performances and also from the fact that on its last tour of Bangladesh in November, it came back to win the second T20I and level the two-match series. Needing 136 for a win, Zimbabwe was 39 for 5 when Jongwe and Waller got together to put on 55 runs and bring the game back into balance. The duo fell, but Neville Madziva’s unbeaten 19-ball 28 ensured that a three-wicket win was achieved with a ball to spare.
“We have come here (to Bangladesh) to win. We are also mindful that we have another ten games before the World T20,” said Whatmore. “There will be a portion of looking at different combinations.”
Zimbabwe has included Vusi Sibanda and Brian Vitori for the series, and Sean Williams, who could not play in the series against Afghanistan because of a groin injury, is also in the squad. Whatmore said that everyone would get a chance to help the team management find the right balance.
“They (Sibanda, Vitori and Williams) will get a chance. Sean is certainly in our best team,” added Whatmore. “The other two boys have got a chance to impress. They will be given their opportunity. No one has come in here just to carry the drinks. So they will all play.”
From Bangladesh’s perspective, this series offers a good chance to get the team warmed up before the first T20 Asia Cup at home, building up to the ICC World T20.
Bangladesh’s progress as an ODI team over the last year has been phenomenal, and it would like to replicate the formula in the game’s shortest format. For that, it will rely on Shakib Al Hasan, one of the best allrounders in recent times who is back in the side after paternity leave.
Eyes will also be on Soumya Sarkar, who has recovered from a side strain. How the returning duo delivers and complements the likes of Tamim Iqbal, Mashrafe Mortaza, Mushfiqur Rahim and others could set the template that Bangladesh would carry over to India for the big tournament.
While Mustafizur Rahim was Bangladesh’s find last year, newcomer Abu Hider will be under focus during this series, having bowled Comilla Victorians to the title in the last Bangladesh Premier League with 21 wickets.
“We have a settled line-up in ODI cricket but in T20s I don't think we have our combination or gameplan understood,” said Chandika Hathurusinghe, Bangladesh’s coach. “It is the biggest challenge, especially in batting. So batsmen have to understand and be comfortable in their roles. Shakib and Soumya are world-class players so they are both in the team.”
Bangladesh: Mashrafe Mortaza (capt), Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Mushfiqur Rahim (wk), Sabbir Rahman, Imrul Kayes, Mahmudullah, Arafat Sunny, Nurul Hasan, Shuvagata Hom, Mustafizur Rahman, Abu Hider, Al-Amin Hossain.
Zimbabwe: Elton Chigumbura (capt), Malcolm Waller, Peter Moor, Hamilton Masakadza, Wellington Masakadza, Richmond Mutumbami (wk), Sean Williams, Sikandar Raza, Graeme Cremer, Chamu Chibhabha, Neville Madziva, Vusi Sibanda, Brian Vitori, Luke Jongwe, Taurai Muzarabani, Tendai Chisoro.