(ESPN) Bangladesh ended the fourth day in Dhaka in a strong position in their bid for a series-levelling win, reducing Zimbabwe to 76 for 2 at stumps. Mahmudullah’s first Test hundred in eight years allowed them to declare their innings for the second time in the match and set Zimbabwe a target of 443, or – more realistically – four sessions to survive. Either result seemed unlikely when the visitors lost Hamilton Masakadza and Brian Chari before the close, with Taijul Islam and Mehidy Hasan Miraz extracting significant turn to trouble the visiting batsmen.
Faced with a Herculean task, Zimbabwe’s openers cobbled together stand that stretched to 68 as Bangladesh’s seamers created a couple of chances, but weren’t backed up in the field. Masakadza fended a rising delivery in Khaled Ahmed’s fourth over to Mehidy in the gully, but the ball was grassed and Khaled’s wait for a maiden Test wicket went on. That was Bangladesh’s ninth drop of the game (as compared to five from Zimbabwe), and the third off Khaled’s bowling.
As he had done in the first innings, Chari first set down an anchor and then looked to transfer a little pressure with some calculated hitting. He brought up the fifty stand with a quick single into the covers in the 17th over of the innings, but Bangladesh’s spinners – and particularly Taijul – found enough in the surface to suggest that chances would keep coming.
Mehidy was the first to strike, removing Masakadza for 25 with a regulation bat-pad catch by Mominul at short leg. Chari then missed a paddle sweep against Taijul to be lbw for 43, the Zimbabwe opener failing to get the decision overturned on review. With close-in fielders surrounding the batsmen and the light starting to fade, Taijul and Mehidy bowled in tandem, getting the ball to bite and spit at Brendan Taylor and Sean Williams. They managed to survive, but the signs for the batting team were ominous.
Bangladesh had decided not to enforce the follow on this morning, and their batsmen had struggled in similar fashion against Zimbabwe’s new-ball bowlers. It took a 118-run fifth-wicket stand between Mohammad Mithun and Mahmudullah to repair the innings after they had slipped to 25 for 4, with Kyle Jarvis and Donald Tiripano picking up two early wickets apiece.
Mithun’s debut had got off to a shaky start with his four-ball duck in the first innings, but in the second dig he applied himself much more effectively. His knock was not without its iffy strokes, but he put the bad ball away whenever the spinners missed their lengths.
Mahmudullah played the more adventurous role early in the partnership. He had gone 10 Test innings without a fifty before this one, and finally reached the mark from 70 deliveries. Mithun had also reached his own maiden Test fifty by then, from 91 balls, and with the partnership pushed beyond 100 the time came to step on the accelerator.
Mithun fell in the pursuit of quick runs, and after Ariful Haque was quickly bowled around his legs, Mahmudullah found an able partner in Mehidy, and they added a further 73 as Bangladesh’s lead ballooned. Mahmudullah continued to take on Zimbabwe’s spinners, hitting his second six off Mavuta and then slicing an uppish drive through point off the final delivery of the second session to bring up his ton.
With that came the declaration. Despite a gritty opening stand from Zimbabwe, Bangladesh will go into the final day confident that they can pick up the remaining seven wickets, with Tendai Chatara’s injury making him unlikely to come out to bat. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, need a miracle.