Pakistan vs Zimbabwe | Tuesday 26 May | Lahore | 13:00
In an effort to foster a conveniently symbiotic relationship, the hosts and Zimbabwe ended six years of cricket isolation in Pakistan by playing out a two-match T20 series, followed by three ODIs. The crowd showed touching support for Pakistan over the two twenty-over contests which has sent out a positive message to all international sides apprehensive of travelling to the country following Sri Lanka’s disastrous tour. Now that the emotions have settled, the one-day series begins with Pakistan intent on a clean-sweep in front of their adoring fans.
To Win Match
Despite securing the T20 series 2-0, coach Waqar Younis expressed concern at the manner in which Pakistan laboured to victory. Conceding over 170 in both matches - notwithstanding a rather flat Lahore pitch - was more than Pakistan would have been happy to chase. Although the top order made strong starts in both pursuits, Pakistan’s middle-order stumbled on two occasions and the hosts were only just able to creep over the line. In team news, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Sami have been recalled to the ODI side for the first time in nearly two years. Malik has averaged just above 50.00 in List A cricket in the interim while Sami has also been in impressive form domestically. Imad Wasim has also been included in a squad that appears quite different since the ODI retirements of Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi. Saeed Ajmal misses out on the fifty-over portion of Zimbabwe’s tour and other notable exclusions are Umar Gul, Rahat Ali and Zulfiqar Babar. Pakistan’s pace attack will be made up of Wahab Riaz, Anwar Ali, Junaid Khan and the aforementioned Sami. Yasir Shah is the only specialist spinner in the squad, leaving work to be done for Hafeez and the other part-time turners.
Zimbabwe have also made wholesale changes to their squad as they hope to be more competitive on the international stage. They’ve recalled six players and named one new cap in their touring squad. The likes of Regis Chakabva, Tendai Chatara (broken leg), Tafadzwa Kamungozi, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Solomon Mire and retired Brendan Taylor have been ousted from the historic tour. Charles Coventry, Chris Mpofu, Richmond Mutumbami, Vusi Sibanda, Brian Vitori and Graeme Cremer make their return to international cricket with debutant Roy Kaia earmarked as the replacement for Taylor. This is Zimbabwe’s first tour without their iconic captain in seven years. Kaia has been the leading scorer in Zimbabwe’s domestic season and although he didn’t feature in the T20 leg, could make his debut here. Notably, Charles Coventry - who once held the record for the highest score in ODI cricket - has not played for Zimbabwe since 2011 due to the board’s financial situation. The aggressive batsman could signal a change in Zimbabwe’s approach with a healthy run-rate at the forefront of their plans. Graeme Cremer has packed in an attempted golf career and returns to spin contingent.
Lahore will host all of Zimbabwe’s tour matches and has so far shown to be a ground good for scoring. Relatively flat wickets in both T20 matches will put both pace attacks to the test while spin could be a very important weapon in choking up middle-over runs. No rain is expected so a complete game is on the cards.
VERDICT: Pakistan 1/5
Zimbabwe are a much-improved unit in recent times and are showing a desire to compete after so many years of being below-par in international competition. They’ve impressed and pushed bigger sides to the brink over the past year but seem to lack the pace, firepower and street smarts for the back end of the innings - an aspect of their cricket that needs drastic improvement. While both sides are in the process of an overhaul, Pakistan should be able to exploit Zimbabwe’s tendency to struggle during the powerplays.