Pakistan survived well-composed, defiant knocks by Vusi Sibanda and captain Brendan Taylor to scrape through to a five-run win over Zimbabwe in the first One-Day International (ODI) in Bulawayo.
Set a modest target of 248, opener Sibanda scored 73 to set the pace for the hosts before Taylor almost carried them past the finish line before succumbing to debutant Aizaz Cheema.
With 12 required off the final over, Junaid Khan, hit all over the park earlier, managed to keep the Zimbabwe batsmen in check as Pakistan drew first blood in the three-match series.
Cheema impresses on ODI debut
Pakistan were indebted to Cheema, who finished with impressive figures of three for 36, and the spinners, Mohammad Hafeez and Saeed Ajmal, who kept the scoring rate in check after Zimbabwe were well-placed at 174 for three in the 41st over.
Misbahul Haq was a visibly relieved man after pulling off the win that looked far from sealed at the interval.
“We were about 20 to 30 runs short,” said Misbah. “At crucial stages, we kept losing wickets and that’s why they restricted us. Ajmal is our main weapon but the pacers did a great job as well.”
Earlier, Pakistan were held to a modest score after opting to bat. After a reasonable start – despite the loss of the returning Imran Farhat for nought – the tourists simply could not get a grip on the innings and lost wickets at critical times.
Younus Khan and Hafeez took the score to 74 before the all-rounder, needing 56 to reach 2,000 ODI runs, hit a six and a four before being dismissed for 26.
He had been, to everyone’s surprise, the less aggressive partner to Younus, who sped to 78 off 72 balls with some polished stroke-play.
“I told Hafeez that we needed to bat at least another 20 overs,” said Younus. “I was lucky I got early boundaries. It was a misjudgement to get out. I told Hafeez, ‘you are playing like me and I am playing like you,’” added the former captain, whose seventh century seemed assured before he was run out by Malcolm Waller going for a sharp second run.
There on, Pakistan innings derailed with Shoaib Malik being dismissed for two in his first ODI in over a year. Misbah and Umar Akmal put on 60 for the fifth wicket but at no great pace as they consolidated while Zimbabwe held the upper hand.
Wicket-keeper Adnan missed several scoring opportunities with wild swipes, failing to accelerate towards the end with Pakistan being forced to defend a modest total.
For Zimbabwe, spinner Raymond Price, who shared the new ball with Chris Mpofu, finished with two for 39.
‘Our heads are still high’
Taylor admitted it was a tough fight but was focusing on the positives.
“We let it slip in the second-last over [of Zimbabwe’s innings],” said Taylor. “Credit must be given to Pakistan because they held their nerve. But we will hold our heads high and take positives out of this loss.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 9th, 2011.
Updated from print edition (below)
Teams clash in favoured format
Pakistan’s impressive One-Day International (ODI) run will be put to test by Zimbabwe as the hosts return to playing a format they are more comfortable with.
The two teams lock horns in the first ODI at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo today with Zimbabwe keen to put the seven-wicket loss in the one-off Test behind them.
There, as is so often the case, Zimbabwe lost the plot after playing well during the first three days. A collapse and purposeful bowling by newcomer Aizaz Cheema and off-spinners Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez exposed Zimbabwe’s lack of patience.
But come the ODI series, Zimbabwe’s recent win over Bangladesh puts them in good stead. Add to this Pakistan’s resolve to experiment and test the young blood, and the hosts stand a good chance.
Pitch likely to be friendly for batsmen
With the pitch speculated to be a batting-friendly track and offering some assistance to the spinners, Pakistan will think of it as a good sign. Hafeez seems to be coming of age following a string of impressive performance and Ajmal has always troubled oppositions.
The key would be to keep improving the batting performance, which was aided by Zimbabwe’s lacklustre approach in the Test match where the hosts missed ample chances to contain Pakistan.
Zimbabwe coach Alan Butcher has promised to keep the fight going.
“We would expect the attitude to be as positive as it was going into the Test match,” said Butcher. “We want to let Pakistan know that they are in for a good game of cricket.”
Odds in favour of Pakistan
While records heavily tip in Pakistan’s favour – 37 wins and two losses in 41 ODIs against Zimbabwe – the hosts would also be wary of the return of former captain Shoaib Malik, who will play his first ODI since the Asia Cup encounter against India in June 2010, and will bolster a middle-order already boasting big names Misbahul Haq, Younus Khan and Umar Akmal.
Brian Vitori, who took successive five-wicket hauls in his first two ODIs in the series against Bangladesh, will be Zimbabwe’s surprise weapon. However, dry weather is likely to rule out much of the threat.
Our goal is still to win, says Misbah
Pakistan captain Misbah, who already aimed at winning the series for outgoing coach Waqar Younis, said that the presence of youngsters will not come in his way.
“We came with a lot of youngsters and everyone must get a chance to play. But our goal still is to win.”
He praised Cheema for his eight wickets in the Test match and got among the runs himself as well. The middle-order fared reasonably too and with Pakistan not having lost an ODI series since the one against South Africa in the UAE last year, the tourists would be looking for a solid start here.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2011.