Optimism is Zimbabwe’s most enduring, and endearing, quality. Having not played a single Test all year before this one, not won a Test since their historic fifth-day triumph against Pakistan five years ago, not won a Test in Bangladesh since 2001, and stumbled through a 3-0 defeat in the preceding ODIs, they have batted and bowled their way into a position of strength. Ten wickets are all that stand between them and the sweet relief of victory that will justify the hope and optimism of their coach, Lalchand Rajput.
“We are always positive,” a beaming Rajput said after Zimbabwe left the field on the third day with Bangladesh still 295 runs adrift in the fourth innings. “We are here to win. I’m a very positive person and I never give up until the last. This is a situation where we have the opposition in such a position that it’s very difficult to lose.”
While the current situation might have surprised many, Rajput is not one of them. Zimbabwe prepared well for this tour, he explained, having been in camp for almost two months before departure. Had a few decisive events not gone against them in the ODIs, that scoreline, he felt, might not have been so lopsided.
“I’m not really [surprised], because if you look at the ODI series we had chances in the first ODI,” he said. “In the second two ODIs, there was a lot of dew and the toss was crucial, but still we got to 280 in the last ODI. We are not that troubled that we lost the series 3-0 as we had our chances, but we could not finish and take those chances.
“Now the Test match has been good so far, with two more days to go, and we have to try and bowl well and field well because such chances don’t come very often. And if you look at the stats as well, teams have not often chased more than 300 in the fourth innings here.”
Indeed, Bangladesh’s highest winning fourth-innings effort with the bat in this country is the 101 for 7 they scored against Zimbabwe in Dhaka four years ago, while only twice before have other teams chased over 300 to win here.
But records are made to be broken, and while there has been some turn and bounce on offer, the Sylhet pitch has not yet disintegrated into the sort of minefield where Zimbabwe could be assured of rolling Bangladesh over cheaply. Rajput reminded the press corps that cricket is a funny old game, and it’s too early to celebrate just yet.
“It’s a positive situation yes, and the boys are very happy, but cricket is a very funny game,” he said. “It can change in just one session. We’ve got to be really focused on our bowling now, because we just have to bowl and field well. If one partnership is there, we don’t have to put our shoulders down. On this type of wicket, if one wicket falls, you might get or three, so you’ve got to be positive when that happens.
“As a coach you’ve got to be giving them the positives, and time to time during the drinks break or the lunch break, you’ve got tell them that they’ve got to be upbeat. In cricket you’ve got to have the body language that you want to win badly, that’s important. The body language shows how keen you are to win, and you’ve got to not drop the body language at all.
“You cannot take anything for granted until the last wicket is taken or the last runs scored. We look at the positive aspects of the game, and we are very positive that we can try and get those ten wickets tomorrow.”
Hope springs eternal. This time, it may well be justified.