Harare (Cricinfo): Harare threw up a fun T20I contest in the first game, though both Zimbabwe and Pakistan were far from pleased with how things unfolded. Zimbabwe captain Sean Williams termed his side’s performance in the field “inexcusable” after they shelled no fewer than five catches, including an opportunity to send Mohammad Rizwan packing early; Rizwan went on to carry his bat and score 82 of Pakistan’s 149 runs. Babar Azam was similarly displeased, admitting the batsmen didn’t perform well enough, and that Pakistan’s 11-run victory was “not a convincing win”. Both sides promised to bounce back, an opportunity they will have in the second game, which is set to take place at the same venue on Friday.
Zimbabwe may wonder if they have already squandered a big chance to give their higher-profile opposition a bloody nose; if Pakistan are quite as poor at any point across the remaining games, that will be a serious concern for the visitors. Both Azam and Rizwan spoke of the adjustment it took from the higher-bouncing pitches in the Highveld in South Africa to the less lively ones at the Harare Sports Club.
Now that that adjustment has been made, presumably, Pakistan should be more attuned to the conditions and perhaps less troubled by some of the factors they deemed unknown on Wednesday.
The hosts, however, would know that it was only a lack of experience that prevented them from taking a 1-0 lead in the series. They simply don’t play enough international cricket; they have only played three T20Is – all against Afghanistan – between the last time these two sides played an international series last year and now. Pakistan have been their most familiar big-name opponent of late, and matching them nearly every step of the way in the first match should have given Zimbabwe confidence that they could be competitive.
Blessing Muzarabani continues to be Zimbabwe’s spearhead with the ball and arguably their most important player. He was, once more, comfortably the best fast bowler for his side in the first game, and resumed a running battle with Azam that has seen the lanky fast bowler finish on top more often than not. Of the last five times the Pakistan captain has been dismissed against Zimbabwe across formats, Muzarabani has been the bowler on four occasions. Even if the pitch isn’t quite as springy as the one at the SuperSport Park and at the Wanderers might have beenMuzaranabi is able to extract enough extra bounce to keep batsman on their toes in more ways than one.
Pakistan’s middle order continues to be a pressing concern, with every combination the visitors have tried on tour blowing up in their faces.
Rizwan mentioned after the previous game how he almost had a pact with Azam regarding how one of them needed to stay there till the end, and while that speaks of the confidence in their own abilities, it also shines a light on how little they appear to trust the batsmen lower down. Haider Ali remains woefully out of form, while Danish Aziz has struggled on tour, too. Mohammad Hafeez, perhaps more surprisingly, is also yet to hit his stride, which means Pakistan remain vulnerable at later stages of their innings. With games running out before the T20 World Cup later in the year, there are numerous spots up for grabs, but if only there were the personnel to grab them.