Zimbabwe can ill afford another slip-up but even they must be wondering what they can do to stop the Pakistani juggernaut.
Swept aside in the first two games of the five-match One-Day International series, the hosts must win at Queen’s Sports Club in Bulawayo on Wednesday (July 18) if they are to keep the series alive. While the equation is straightforward, the task is far from.
There have been few signs of a dramatic turnaround from a team shorn of several first-choice players and clearly well below Pakistan in the talent and resources stakes. Apart from their final league game of the triangular Twenty20 International series against Australia when they were competitive to a degree, they have found the going difficult since the international home calendar began at the start of the month.
While the batting has been there and thereabouts from time to time, the bowling has looked singularly toothless. The ease with which Pakistan hunted down a target of 195 in the second game on Monday was almost embarrassing. Imam-ul-Haq, the centurion in the first game, was the only wicket to fall, and even that to a run out after putting on 119 for the first wicket with Fakhar Zaman. Zaman went on to remain unbeaten on 117 as Pakistan cantered home by nine wickets, with 84 deliveries to spare.
Zimbabwe negated the legspinning threat of Shadab Khan reasonably well. Having picked up four wickets in the first match which Pakistan lorded by 201 runs, Shadab went wicketless on Monday, but Usman Shanwari and Hasan Ali more than made up for that with seven wickets between them. If Zimbabwe are looking for consolation points, then they can take heart from a return to run-scoring ways of Hamilton Masakadza. The skipper top-scored with 59 and PJ Moor weighed in with 50, but given the strength of the Pakistani batting and the ineptitude of their own bowling, that was never going to be enough for the home side.
What successive crushing losses will do to Zimbabwe’s psyche is hardly open to question. While it is imperative for the ‘smaller’ teams to get meaningful outings, the vast gulf in class and quality does no one any favours. Already, with three games to play this week, both sides will be eyeing the end of the series for entirely different reasons. Pakistan will take back feel-good more than anything else from this showdown, while Zimbabwe will have to more than merely introspect.
Not even a miraculous win on Wednesday, should that transpire, will help in the long term if they don’t set their house in order. Zimbabwe at their strongest might still have struggled to put it past Pakistan, but the big question they must address is what is forcing their top players to make themselves unavailable.
Zimbabwe: Brian Chari, Tendai Chatara, Chamu Chibhabha, Elton Chigumbura, Tendai Chisoro, Tinashe Kamunhukamwe, Hamilton Masakadza (capt), Wellington Masakadza, Peter Moor (wk), Ryan Murray, Tarisai Musakanda, Blessing Muzarabani, Richard Ngarava, Liam Roche, Donald Tiripano.
Pakistan: Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Babar Azam, Asif Ali, Sarfraz Ahmed (capt, wk), Mohammad Nawaz, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan, Usman Khan, Yasir Shah, Hasan Ali, Haris Sohail.