Harare: As the final leg of Pakistan's tour of Zimbabwe begins on Friday, both sides will approach the first of two Twenty20 Internationals in Harare with different ambitions.
Zimbabwe have lost the preceding one-off Test and three-match one-day series to Pakistan, and will be desperate to turn things around in the shortest format of the game. Meanwhile, Pakistan will continue to use the games to give their unproven players further experience.
History does not bode well for Zimbabwe, their recent losses to Pakistan apart. Zimbabwe have won just three of the 14 T20s they have played, with Pakistan winning the one and only such match between the two sides by seven wickets in October 2008. In fact, the African side has very little experience in the T20 format, having played their last international match nearly a year ago, in October 2010.
Perhaps surprisingly, Zimbabwe acquitted themselves rather well in the one-off Test, notwithstanding the eventual defeat. However, despite threatening briefly, they were outplayed in all departments of the game by Pakistan in the ODI series. The batsmen struggled to adapt in the middle overs and score quick runs, even though Zimbabwe managed to score over 220 runs in each of the three matches. Coach Alan Butcher has suggested the fear of a collapse held them back, but with few such worries in the 20-over game, Zimbabwe will need to be more aggressive to stand a chance against Pakistan’s bowling attack.
The impetus will have to come from the opening partnership of Vusi Sibanda and Chamu Chibhabha. Chibhabha finally hit some form with a 62 in the final ODI, while the attacking Sibanda has been earmarked as a future star by Younis Khan. The right-hander was Zimbabwe’s topscorer in the ODI series, closely followed by skipper Brendan Taylor, who will again be key to his side’s chances. The T20 format also requires players who can hit the big shots, and all-rounder Elton Chigumbura will be expected to add quick runs towards the end.
It is their bowling that has been Zimbabwe’s real worry though, with only medium pacer Chigumbura and experienced left-arm spinner Ray Price able to curb the runs. Senior fast bowler Chris Mpofu is likely to return after missing the third ODI.
Pakistan will be looking to give coach Waqar Younis the perfect send-off with another whitewash. Among the batsmen, Younis Khan, Mohammad Hafeez and Imran Farhat were in fine touch during the ODIs, with the Hafeez scoring an unbeaten 139 in the second one-dayer. Young Rameez Raja might get a look-in, having performed well in Pakistan’s domestic T20 competition. Among the bowlers, 32-year-old Aizaz Cheema has impressed on this tour, picking up eight wickets each in the Test and the ODI series, and is likely to trouble the cautious Zimbabwe batsmen again.
The odds are stacked against the hosts. With small margins for error, the batsmen-friendly pitch and Zimbabwe’s suspect fielding will also do them no favours. T20 can be an unpredictable format, yet Pakistan’s quality and experience makes them overwhelming favourites to win the first of the two-match series, at Harare on Friday.
Zimbabwe squad: Brendan Taylor (c), Regis Chakabva, Vusi Sibanda, Chamu Chibhabha, Charles Coventry, Hamilton Masakadza, Tatenda Taibu (wk), Malcolm Waller, Elton Chigumbura, Prosper Utseya, Ray Price, Kyle Jarvis, Chris Mpofu, Brian Vitori, Cephas Zhuwao.
Pakistan squad: Misbah-ul-Haq (c), Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umar, Imran Farhat, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Umar Akmal, Rameez Raja, Shoaib Malik, Adnan Akmal (wk), Saeed Ajmal, Yasir Shah, Sohail Tanvir, Sohail Khan, Junaid Khan, Aizaz Cheema.