The first ODI was an exciting one for the neutrals, and everyone looking for a competitive series, but it’s best to a bit cautious if anyone feels that the close finish has set a template of sorts for the remaining two games. The difference was 26 runs in that game, and what will gut Zimbabwe the most about not getting over the line was that they had in front of them an off-colour Pakistan for much of the game. It’s hard to believe Pakistan won’t alter their approach, particularly with the bat, and while Babar Azam‘s side have a few more gears to go through, it isn’t quite clear if Zimbabwe do, too.
While Chamu Chibhabha‘s men ran Pakistan close and, at one stage, were arguably favourites to come up trumps, that they failed to do so is emblematic of one of the challenges they face. Success breeds success, and Zimbabwe have had so little of it lately, they might have lacked the self-belief to see themselves over the finish line. That happens to Zimbabwe not infrequently, and while pushing Pakistan hard away from home deserves nothing but plaudits, in the World Super League, results matter, and yesterday’s did not take Zimbabwe any closer to automatic world Cup qualification.
For Pakistan, the signs in the first ODI weren’t too promising. Shaheen Afridi looks like a generational talent, but that was already known. The problem is that, as they start the next four-year cycle in ODI cricket, there is no evidence they are being coached, or indeed captained, to adopt the sort of approach the elite ODI teams look for. There was the same caution that Misbah-ul-Haq has favoured over anything resembling bold or innovative. It is not the way to move into the future, and as Zimbabwe nearly showed, barely the way to eke out results in the present.
Last five completed matches, most recent first
In the spotlight
Pakistan’s top order was far too cautious in the first powerplay, and that sluggishness seemed to set the tempo. Captain Babar Azam has promised more positivity, and whether Abid Ali opens alongside Imam-ul-Haq, or the more enterprising Fakhar Zaman does, would be interesting to see. It sets up a fascinating contest between a group of batsmen under pressure to break out of their conservative shell, and a bowling line-up well aware they may be challenged more seriously next time. Don’t be surprised if we all look back on it later as the decisive passage of the game.
Sean Williams was in the form of his life last year, with two of his three career hundreds coming in a 13-ODI spell that saw him average a shade under 70, and he was going strong even as Brendan Taylor‘s form faded. On Friday, however, he looked distinctly uncomfortable during his short, troubled stay at the crease, perhaps the weakest link of the Zimbabwean batting order on the day. Williams doesn’t have the best record against Pakistan; he last made a half-century against this opposition 12 years and 11 matches ago, in Multan in 2008. For a man who has been something of a rock in that Zimbabwean middle order for the best part of a decade and a half, that shouldn’t continue, and if his side are to continue pushing Pakistan hard, it can’t.
If Shadab Khan is fit, he should come back into the side. And if, as Babar Azam said, Pakistan intend to go hard at the top, that bodes well for Fakhar Zaman’s chances of getting back into the side. With Pakistan looking at the future, Khushdil Shah might get a look-in, too.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Fakhar Zaman/Abid Ali, 2 Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Babar Azam (capt), 4 Haris Sohail, 5 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 6 Iftikhar Ahmed/Shadab Khan, 7 Khushdil Shah 8 Imad Wasim/Faheem Ashraf, 9 Haris Rauf, 10 Wahab Riaz, 11 Shaheen Afridi
Tendai Chisoro was batting a spot too high at No. 8, and Zimbabwe might opt for a more established batsman instead. That could bring Elton Chigumbura or Ryan Burl into the mix, while Brian Chari could find himself battling competition from Tinashe Kamunhukamwe.
Zimbawe (possible): 1 Brian Chari/Tinashe Kamunhukamwe 2 Chamu Chibhabha 3 Craig Ervine 4 Brendan Taylor (wk) 5 Sean Williams 6 Wesley Madhevere 7 Sikandar Raza 8 Elton Chigumbura/Ryan Burl 9 Carl Mumba 10 Richard Ngarava 11 Blessing Muzarabani
Pitch and conditions
A different surface in Rawalpindi is likely to be used, and light grass is expected on the pitch again. As the first game demonstrated, the early start means dew doesn’t become a factor in the chase, while there should be no trouble from the skies.
Stats and trivia
Brendan Taylor’s 11th century in the first ODI means he now has four ODI hundreds more than any Zimbabwean – Alistair Campbell is second with seven – while, among current players, Craig Ervine, Williams and Sikandar Raza have three each.
Pakistan’s 26-run win in the first ODI was the narrowest margin of victory in a match between the two sides played in Pakistan.