The second ODI was more representative of the respective qualities of the two sides, with Pakistan stamping their authority after a shaky performance in the first game where they struggled to move out of third gear. Zimbabwe, for their part, will be disappointed at missing out on a chance to pile on the runs after establishing a solid platform with arguably their two best batsmen, Brendan Taylor and Sean Williams, at the crease. They lost wickets to soft dismissals, demonstrating the lack of consistency that has plagued Zimbabwe for so long.
For Pakistan, anything less than a clean sweep will be looked upon as something of a failure, but they must also be seen to be giving exposure to young players in the side as calls for a generational transation in Pakistan cricket grow louder. It has, to their credit, been a series of out-with-the-old, with Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez omitted, while Haider Ali and Haris Rauf made their debuts, with Khushdil Shah set to follow on Tuesday. The jury may still be out on whether an opening pair that leaves out Fakhar Zaman is best suited to the positive cricket they need to play, and indeed if a lower middle order of Faheem Ashraf, Imad Wasim and Ahmed is a shade too brittle, but each has made contributions this series, and shown themselves to be fit for purpose.
Zimbabwe have more serious questions to ponder. Their best middle order is the same as their best middle order a decade ago, and while that speaks very highly of Taylor, Williams and Craig Ervine, it is worrying that no one has seriously managed to make a push for their places. Wesley Madhevere is an enormously exciting player, but with these three all in their mid-30s, Zimbabwe will hope to have replacements ready when the trio eventually do walk away.
The other serious challenge hampering Zimbabwe is a lack of genuinely probing pace and swing bowlers. Blessing Muzarabani is probably the likeliest to have a long career, but Carl Mumba and Richard Ngarava never quite mustered the threat you might expect with the new ball, and nor, over his career, has Donald Tiripano. Finding and developing quality pace is perhaps the hardest skill of all, both from a scouting and coaching perspective, but for this series, Zimbabwe lack it, and may continue to pay the price.
Zimbabwe may feel some progress has been made if they don’t walk away empty handed, while Misbah-ul-Haq’s Pakistan can breathe a sigh of relief if they get the whitewash, safe in the knowledge that the first series post transition appears to have gone according to plan.
Pakistan WWWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Just because Haider Ali was dismissed by what can only be described as a freakishly weird lbw decision, it shouldn’t detract from the majesty of the innings he was playing. Just as the 20-year old did on T20I debut against England, he displayed his full range of attacking weapons during his brief stay at the crease. He was especially destructive when hitting through the air, and undeterred by a slightly tetchy start where he had a catch put down by Taylor. The way he batted didn’t deserve to have the spotlight robbed from him just because of the manner of the dismissal, and if he’s in the same sort of touch in the third game, chances are it is his talent that we’ll be talking about.
Zimbabwe have a problem at the top, and while it’s not quite clear how to resolve it, the existence of the problem is not in dispute. Brian Chari and Chamu Chibhabha have struggled to cope against the fearsome pace of Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf, and both games have seen Zimbabwe’s middle order left to pick up the pieces. It isn’t even just a problem this series; the last time Zimbabwe had a fifty opening stand was in July 2018, also against Pakistan. Whether Tinashe Kamunhukamwe’s inclusion resolves that problem is unclear, but until Zimbabwe can find a way to start well, the middle order will always have just a bit too much catching up to do.
With the series won, Pakistan could ring the changes. Shah may finally get a look-in, while Usman Qadir will hope to make his debut, too.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Fakhar Zaman/Abid Ali, 2 Imam-ul-Haq, 3 Babar Azam (capt), 4 Haider Ali, 5 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 6 Iftikhar Ahmed, 7 Khushdil Shah, 8 Imad Wasim/Faheem Ashraf, 9 Haris Rauf, 10 Mohammad Musa, 11 Shaheen Afridi/Wahab Riaz
Zimbabwe were unchanged for the second game, but it continues to appear as if they’re a batsman light. Ryan Burl could be brought in to shore things up, while Kamunhukamwe must surely be running Chari close.
Zimbabwe (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
It’ll be a different surface once more, and one that should favour the batsmen. The weather continues to remain clear.
Stats and trivia
Victory in the third game would extend Pakistan’s winning streak to nine, their third best. Their best winning streak, and joint-second best in ODI history, was a 12-match run in 2007-08, though that included 11 wins against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
Brendan Taylor is 98 runs away from overtaking Grant Flower as the second-highest Zimbabwe ODI run-scorer. He is currently 312 runs behind the leader, Andy Flower.