Zimbabwe had their moments in the decider but a middle-overs’ slowdown dashed their hopes
Pakistan 165 for 3 (Rizwan 91*, Babar 52, Jongwe 3-37) beat Zimbabwe 141 for 7 (Madhevere 59, Marumani 35, Hasan 4-18, Rauf 2-34) by 24 runs
Zimbabwe had a chance of pulling off a surprise win and completing their third-highest-successful chase after Wesley Madhevere‘s second career half-century took them to 78 for 1 at the halfway stage, well on track to reach the target of 166. But they were unable to maintain their scoring rate and it ballooned on them in the next few overs, thanks to pressure from Hasnain and Ali, who forced a collapse. Zimbabwe lost six wickets for 39 runs from midway into the 14th over and finished 24 runs short.
Ali picked up a career-best 4 for 18 and reached a landmark 150 T20 wickets as he finished as Pakistan’s best bowler on the day. He received good support from Hasnain, who got 1 for 26, as Pakistan recovered well after their other seamers leaked runs.
Scoring was more free-flowing than it has been in the series so far, with Pakistan notching up the highest total on a fresh pitch. Their middle order was not required after a 126-run second-wicket stand between Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan took them to a competitive total. Rizwan capped off fantastic white-ball form on this tour with his fourth half-century in seven T20Is and once again dominated the leg side. He scored 70 of his 91 runs in that region. Alongside him was Azam, who complimented Rizwan with runs all around and a milestone of his own. Pakistan’s captain is now the fastest to 2000 T20I runs.
Babar takes off
As much as there will be debate over which names will rotate through the big three (or is it four or five?) batters in international cricket, there could be none over one of them, which must occupy a spot at the moment. Azam added another achievement to his list when he became the fastest player to 2000 T20 runs, leapfrogging Virat Kohli and getting there in four fewer innings.
He got there with a beautiful drive through extra cover after dancing down the track to meet Ryan Burl’s legspin. That was the first boundary in his innings, and it came off the 21st ball he faced, and was followed immediately by another off a short ball and a third in Burl’s next over, when he hit a flighted ball over the bowler’s head. He was happy to play a supporting role to Rizwan, though, as he reached his 18th T20I half-century.
After 16 overs without a six, Rizwan breached the boundary off a Luke Jongwe waist-high full-toss that he sent over square leg. To make matters worse, Jongwe had to bowl the ball again, and he took the pace off to ensure Rizwan could not inflict similar damage. But the floodgates had opened. Rizwan hit two more sixes, over fine leg, off Richard Ngarava and Blessing Muzarabani to propel Pakistan to a total over 150. Rizwan finished on an unbeaten 89, his seventh score of over fifty in his last 11 T20I innings.
Jongwe’s jump to the top
Jongwe has become Zimbabwe’s highest wicket-taker against Pakistan in T20Is, and leads the bowling charts by some distance. He claimed nine wickets across the three matches at an average of 8.55 and took 3 for 33 in this one, all big wickets.
His first came in his opening over when he attempted a wide yorker, which became an ankle-high full-toss that Sharjeel Khan hit with the toe-end of the bat to Muzarabani. Jongwe bowled two mid-innings overs, one of which went for 14 runs, and was then tasked with the final over where he dismissed Azam and Fakhar Zaman in successive deliveries. Azam fell to a slower ball as he tried to clear long-on and was caught just inside the boundary by Burl. Zaman went exactly the same way and tried to smash a low full-toss over the boundary. Burl had to make some ground to get to the ball, and took it low down. Jongwe conceded just seven runs in that over to ensure Zimbabwe finished strongly.
Power in the powerplay
Zimbabwe registered the most productive powerplay of the series and scored 48 runs in their six overs for the loss of just one wicket. The decision to use Madhevere to open the innings paid off handsomely as he set the tone and took 11 runs off the first over, including back-to-back boundaries off Hasnain. He went on to show his ability on both sides with a strong drive off Hasnain and a powerful pull off Faheem Ashraf. Tarisai Musakanda contributed ten off 11 balls before he was hit high on the back leg and given out lbw. Zimbabwe hit seven fours in the powerplay compared to Pakistan’s six. Madhevere went on to score his second T20I half-century, and second against Pakistan, which he brought up with a drive through the covers off the 37th ball he faced.
Hasnain and Hasan tighten the noose
Despite a climbing required run-rate, Zimbabwe would have considered themselves on track at the end of the 13th over, on 101 for 1. After two fairly expensive overs, Hasnain was brought back to bowl the 14th. His first was full on off stump but Madhevere was unable to hit it through the covers as planned. The next rushed Madhevere and he got a single. The third ball did the damage as Tadiwanashe Marumani tried to hoick it over midwicket but inside-edged on to his stumps. That ended a 65-run second-wicket partnership and brought Brendan Taylor to the crease. He saw off two dot balls before getting a single, which meant the over only cost two runs and Pakistan were back in it. At the other end, Ashraf conceded five runs in the next over before Ali replaced Hasnain and seized the advantage.
Zimbabwe needed to score more than 11 runs an over for the last five and Madhevere knew that. He tried to hook a Hasan slower ball but skied it and Sarfaraz Ahmed took a good catch to the sounds of Ali’s “boom” celebrations. Three balls later, Regis Chakabva paddled a ball to short fine-leg to depart for a first-ball duck. Ali took 2 for 4 in that over and then returned to end the contest in the penultimate over. Zimbabwe needed 34 off the last 12 balls and Sean Williams had to go big. He tried to hit a slower ball over midwicket but with a still-injured left hand, he wasn’t able to find the middle of the bat and holed out to Ashraf in the deep. That wicket gave Ali career-best returns in T20Is.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent