Shakib Al Hasan, not for the first time, reaffirmed his position as Bangladesh's MVP with a sterling display that included runs, wickets and brilliance in the field. His performance helped Bangladesh win their second consecutive game, and though it came a little too late because the series was already lost, it ended a largely dispiriting tour on a motivating note. A determined recovery stand with Mahmudullah, which bore testimony to his hard work and fitness, and a tight spell on a turning track formed the backbone of a comfortable win.
The Zimbabwe bowlers, after their captain Brendan Taylor chose to field, lacked consistency in their lines and lengths but did enough to ensure Bangladesh didn't dominate on a pitch that promised plenty of runs. Spin was to prove the key weapon on this pitch, and the Zimbabwe slow bowlers stepped in to gain the ascendancy.
Prosper Utseya bowled a couple of tight overs and Ray Price struck at the right time just as Tamim Iqbal was looking for a release; he mistimed a slog-sweep and was caught. Price then brought an extra fielder inside the circle on the leg side, and almost immediately Mushfiqur Rahim gifted him a catch. Price pushed the fielder back after Shuvagoto Hom was kept quiet for four deliveries, prompting a heave off the fifth that found deep midwicket. Zimbabwe were ahead but Shakib stood in their way.
Walking in at No.5, and watching his team slide to 127 for 5 in the 30th over, Shakib was faced with the task of doing justice to a good batting pitch. He initially counterattacked, smashing Price for a massive six followed up by a crunched four off Malcolm Waller. But he had to tone down after losing Mushfiqur Rahim and Shuvagoto in quick succession. Shakib ran hard between the wickets, worked the spinners through the spread-out field, employed the cut, closed the face to play square and drove down the ground with regularity. He went without a boundary for 40 deliveries and yet scored at better than a run-a-ball.
Shakib also benefitted from some ill-directed bowling from Zimbabwe in the late overs. He clipped Elton Chigumbura for two fours in the 42nd over, and swung Price and Chris Mpofu through square leg. He should have inflicted the same treatment on a full toss from Keegan Meth, called in for Kyle Jarvis, but was bowled as he shuffled across to paddle it fine. His wicket came after a century stand, with Mahmudullah already having indulged in some enterprising batting in the final Powerplay. Dropped by Price when on 24, Mahmudullah reached his half-century, lofting Mpofu over his head and following up with a scoop for four more, taking his team past 250.
The innings ended on an unpleasant note as Nasir Hossain smashed a ball back towards Meth, who didn't react in time and was struck hard on the mouth. He broke his teeth, was bleeding profusely, and looked in plenty of discomfort. He didn't come out to bat.
Zimbabwe were indisciplined while batting. Taylor, yet again, was out caught behind while playing away from his body. The in-form Vusi Sibanda was a threat to Bangladesh's defence, striking the ball cleanly, including two massive sixes off the seamers. So it seemed an aberration when he completely miscued an attempted pull off Shakib and it cost him his wicket, triggering a decisive turn of events.
Hamilton Masakadza looked assured for the bulk of his stay but was trapped in front when he played across the line to an arm ball from Abdur Razzak. Tatenda Taibu was plumb when he missed a sweep off Shakib. Three wickets had fallen for 14 runs in 23 balls and Zimbabwe were forced to go into rebuilding mode. Forster Mutizwa and Waller kept the fight going, concentrating on working the field and playing the odd aggressive shot.
The pair added 67, aided by sloppy fielding from Bangladesh, but was separated by brilliance from Shakib. Though he had hurt a finger on his bowling hand, Shakib dived full length and recovered to return an accurate throw to the wicketkeeper's end and run out Mutizwa. There was a procession of wickets from there on and Mahmudullah helped himself to three scalps to complete another impressive all-round performance.