Pakistan and West Indies are arguably the two teams who enter every game with the frills of vulnerability attached to them. No matter how good form they are in, how good their recent record is or how bad the opposition is, they aren’t short of ways to lose. When Pakistan squared up Zimbabwe in the first ODI at Harare, they didn’t look like a team who had not lost to them in 15 years and 26 consecutive One Day Internationals. The contest looked even for most of the time and you wondered if the result was really an upset.
Shoaib Akhtar, who is giving his expertise as cricket pundit these days, said ahead of the series Zimbabwe wouldn’t be an easy opposition. At first glance, Shoaib’s statement appeared to be bordering at pessimism but now his analysis of the series appears to be true. Also if Pakistan’s preparations – practice sessions, media talks etc – in lead up to the series are anything to go by they were taking Zimbabwe as a threatening side. When they left for Zimbabwe, there was an impression the team was going to face a team like South Africa or England rather than a team who hadn’t beaten them in any format for 15 years.
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq admitted following the defeat that he misread the pitch. He these days blame the pitch and the conditions with each new difficulty. It has become a ready-made excuse now. In the previous tour of West Indies, he viewed the wicket at Guyana as the toughest he played on, never mind he had experienced more tricky decks than the one in Guyana.
“We misread the pitch. It was looking like it was going to be slow in the second innings, but I think it was slow in the first innings and played better in the second,” Misbah said after losing to Zimbabwe by seven wickets.
Even if Misbah’s words are believed, it does not justify the batting collapse from 179-2 to 244, it does not justify them managing only 77 runs in last 15 overs when they had 8 wickets in hand, it does not justify the openers scoring at Strike Rate of 50, it does not justify the team selection (only three specialist bowlers – Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez aren’t more than part-timers at current form), it does not justify Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan conceding 100 runs in 18.2 overs between them at expense of only one wicket.
It wasn’t exactly the pitch which handed Pakistan an embarrassing defeat but the absurd team selections and the openers’ extra cautious approach. Ahmed Shehzad and Nasir Jamshed are fine timers and hitters of the cricket ball yet they managed only four boundaries in 100 balls they faced. The bowling appeared one specialist light. When Afridi, Irfan and Junaid were taken for runs, the only other bowling option was Umar Amin, who had bowled only once before in the limited-overs international.
But to criticize only Pakistan would be missing the main point, that is Zimbabwe played a superb game of cricket. It was their first win in any format against a decent opposition since beating New Zealand two years ago at Bulawayo, where the remarkably chased 329.
Although restricting Pakistan to 244 was a case of poor batting than excellent bowling or fielding, the Zimbabwean batsmen weren’t short of any brilliance. The formidable opening partnership, between Vusi Sibanda and Hamilton Masakadza, fetched 107 runs and laid the solid platform. One glaring aspect of Zimbabwe’s performance was they lost only three wickets and they were up against the bowling line-up, which had two bowlers from the top ten ODI Rankings. Even in the previous match of the tour, they scored their second highest Twenty20I total in a chase, 160-6. It sent a message to Pakistan bowlers but they ignored it. Zimbabwe carried the scoring momentum in the ODI series took the lead.
A credit goes to the captain Brendon Taylor as well. He anchored the innings in a situation which is usually squandered by the small teams. But Taylor, 43 off 59 balls, kept his cool in an intense chase. The game was sealed by Sean William’s cameo, 23-ball 39.
Zimbabwe are now one win away from completing a historic series win. As it is a three-match series, just if they manage one more win, it will be their first bilateral series win against a reputed opposition since winning the ODI series 2-1 in New Zealand in 2001. Bearing Pakistan’s vulnerability in mind, Zimbabwe won’t get a better chance to show cricketing world its presence again.
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