BY the end of Pakistan’s tour, they would have played Zimbabwe 80 times in international cricket, only one match behind Bangladesh who’ve played Zimbabwe the most. The series opener will add another chapter to a rich history between these two sides.
Encounters between these teams have often produced truly engrossing cricket. Both Zimbabwe’s first Test victory and their first Test series win came against Pakistan, while Wasim Akram’s double-hundred, Saqlain Mushtaq’s World Cup hat-trick and Inzamam-ul-Haq’s final ODI were all against Zimbabwe.
Yet while Zimbabwe have had some joy against Pakistan in the past, success in the T20 format has been rather more elusive.
Pakistan have won all seven matches between the sides in the format, but the margins have been getting smaller: 25 runs, 19 runs, five wickets and two wickets.
These teams know each other well – not least because of the coaching staff they’ve shared, with Grant Flower being Pakistan’s batting coach and Dav Whatmore being the visitors’ former coach.
Zimbabwe came close to beating Pakistan on a couple of occasions during their historic away tour earlier this year and given the progress that Zimbabwe have made as a side this year, and their propensity for starting strongly, this should be a fairly evenly matched game.
Pakistan have the series against England to look forward to immediately after this tour, as well as the draft of the Pakistan Super League and, a little further away, the World T20 next year to give some context to these T20 games against Zimbabwe.
Away from the cricket, Pakistan will also have been affected by the fatal Hajj stampede in Mecca, adding an emotional element to any success that they may enjoy in Zimbabwe.
In the spotlight
Left-arm seamer Imran Khan earned a national call-up after taking 16 wickets at 12.12 in seven domestic T20 matches this season for Peshawar, eventual winners of the competition, including two four-wicket hauls and a hat-trick against Karachi Region Blues. Pakistan will hope that he can replicate that form in these games and although he won’t be the quickest member of the attack, his movement and accuracy could make Zimbabwe toil.
Zimbabwe have tested out several different wicket-keeping options this year, and Richmond Mutumbami is back in the line-up after Regis Chakabva’s lacklustre performances against New Zealand. Mutumbami batted up the order for Zimbabwe Cricket President’s XI in the recent Africa T20 Cup with moderate success. He may be the best wicketkeeper Zimbabwe have, but his batting has lacked the desired punch in the past.Advertisement
Mutumbami has been slated to bat up the order – and possibly even open the innings – in the one-day internationals, but he will probably slot straight back into Zimbabwe’s lower middle order in the Twenty20s. Malcolm Waller’s performances for Zimbabwe Cricket President’s XI in the Africa T20 tournament will keep him in the frame, but it’s hard to see where he might fit in a packed middle order. With no injuries in the squad, Zimbabwe will be picking from a fully fit squad.
Zimbabwe (possible): 1 Chamu Chibhabha, 2 Hamilton Masakadza, 3 Craig Ervine, 4 Sikandar Raza, 5 Sean Williams, 6 Elton Chigumbura (capt), 7 Richmond Mutumbami (wk), 8 Graeme Cremer, 9 Prosper Utseya, 10 Tinashe Panyangara, 11 Chris Mpofu.
Pakistan have a good balance of experience and youth in their side while their bowling attack, though dominated by left-armers, contains bowlers of variable styles. A dry pitch may also suit spin, making Imad Wasim and Shahid Afridi’s contributions important.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Mukhtar Ahmed, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Shoaib Malik, 5 Umar Akmal, 6 Shahid Afridi (capt), 7 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Wahab Riaz, 10 Imran Khan, 11 Mohammad Irfan