Harare: Zimbabwe sensed the chance of a long-awaited victory over a top team as Pakistan were 158 for 5 at stumps on the fourth day of the second Test on Friday, with the tourists needing another 106 runs to win on a finely balanced final day.
Seeking to draw the two-game series, Zimbabwe claimed two important wickets in the final session, with opener Khurram Manzoor out for 54 and the experienced Younis Khan gone for 29.
Asad Shafiq was also out before the close, but Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq was 26 not out in pursuit of 264 for victory. The skipper holds the key for Pakistan on Saturday, with wicketkeeper Adnan Akmal 17 not out alongside him. With five middle and lower-order wickets in hand, but with the Harare Sports Club pitch showing wear and some uneven bounce, Pakistan need a gritty final-day batting effort to claim the series.
Pakistan lead 1-0 after a 221-run win in the first match and although a draw will be enough for the Pakistanis, who have lost their last two Test series, that result is unlikely.
Victory is within reach for both teams. Seamer Rahat Ali earlier claimed five wickets for Pakistan to bowl Zimbabwe out for 199 in their second innings soon after lunch, with Ali's match-leading figures of 5 for 52 giving Pakistan an initially reachable target.
Yet, apart from Manzoor, Pakistan's top order failed to negotiate the testing final-innings conditions on a pitch that has hosted two Tests in two weeks. Opener Mohammad Hafeez and No. 3 Azhar Ali, who saw his stumps splayed by Tendai Chatara (2-29), went before the tea break and Manzoor, Younis and Shafiq fell in the last session to boost Zimbabwe's hopes.
Manzoor was the first crucial breakthrough after he smashed 11 fours in his 66-ball 54 and looked in red-hot form before falling to offspinner Prosper Utseya, who took 2 for 40. Younis lost his leg stump to a swinging Brian Vitori delivery to energize the Zimbabweans. And when Shafiq edged behind off Utseya trying a flashing cut shot, Pakistan decided to close shop and take their chances on Saturday, when they have a whole day to get just over 100 runs.
However, wickets have fallen in bunches throughout this Test, with Pakistan going from 211 for 4 to 230 all out in their first innings and Zimbabwe sliding rapidly from 117 for 1 to 199 all out in their second innings.
With Pakistan always expected to win the series, much of the focus will be on Zimbabwe's attempt to end a problematic tour on a rare high after players threatened to strike over unpaid wages and the struggling Zimbabwe cricket board moved the second Test from Bulawayo to Harare to save costs.
Ironically, that may work out in favor of the home team as the well-used pitch deteriorates and proves harder and harder to bat on.
Zimbabwe haven't won a Test over anyone other than Bangladesh since 2001 and last beat Pakistan in 1998. Test cricket's strugglers have also lost four of six series since returning to the longer format in 2011.