April 3, 2003

Razzaq flurry sinks Zimbabwe

Pakistan's new-look side - with just four names in common with the team which played their last World Cup match - made an impressive start to their Sharjah Cup campaign, thrashing Zimbabwe by 68 runs. Riding on a dazzling, 53-ball 76 from Abdul Razzaq, Pakistan overcame a nervy start to post 278, and then allowed Zimbabwe just 210, ensuring that they took home the bonus point as well.

There were plenty of plusses for Pakistan after their miserable run in South Africa. Younis Khan scored a measured 67, Umar Gul took two wickets in his first one-day international, Danish Kaneria and Mohammad Hafeez - another debutant - had impressive spells in the middle overs, and the entire team was sprightly in the field. But the star of the day - by some margin - was Razzaq.

After Pakistan's top order had made a meal of excellent batting conditions, Razzaq came in and treated the Zimbabwean attack with utter contempt, slamming seven sixes, six of which came in the last 12 balls. In fact, Heath Streak and his team had done an excellent job in the field after losing the toss - after 46 overs, Pakistan had managed just 209. Then, the sluice gates opened, as Zimbabwe's bowlers kept serving up full-tosses, and Razzaq kept smashing them over long-on. Forty-seven came in the last two overs, by Douglas Hondo and Sean Ervine, and what had been a close contest went completely Pakistan's way.

However, Rashid Latif hardly got the start he would have hoped for after winning the toss. Hafeez, opening the innings with Taufeeq Umar, began with an exquisite back-foot cover-drive off Heath Streak, then nicked one from the same bowler for 12 (32 for 1).

Then, three more wickets fell in a hurry - Naved Latif (3) was bowled through the gate, Taufeeq was bowled off an inside edge by Streak for a laborious 50-ball 16, and Yousuf Youhana was smartly snaffled by Tatenda Taibu (69 for 4).

Not for the first time, it was left to Pakistan's lower middle order to engineer the revival. Younis was the protagonist, with two partnerships which laid the plat form and allowed Razzaq to launch the blistering onslaught at the end.

The 58-run stand with Latif came at a run a ball, and injected some much-needed momentum to the innings. Latif contributed 34, mixing swift running between wickets with splendid, innovative strokeplay. A fine piece of fielding by Travis Friend at fine ended that partnership, but Younis stitched together a useful 44-run stand with Razzaq, who was content to play second fiddle. By the time Younis left, Razzaq had a platform to tee off from.

Zimbabwe's run-chase never took off, despite Doug Marillier's enterprising 59, laced with clever paddles and cheeky reverse-sweeps. Craig Wishart, who opened the innings with him, chased a wide one and gave Gul his first international wicket (21 for 1). Gul snared Friend too - playing in this match as a specialist batsman - having him edge one to slip (47 for 2).

The early damage done, the spinners took over. Grant Flower, in his 200th one-day international, needed just 14 to reach 6000 ODI runs. He got 13 of those, then smashed a cover-drive off Kaneria which Mohammad Hafeez snaffled with a magnificent diving effort to his right (87 for 3). And when Marillier left, castled by a quicker one by Kaneria (104 for 4), the contest was all but over. Blignaut and Ervine livened up proceedings with entertaining cameos, which never threatened to alter the course of the match.

This match gave Zimbabwe their first taste of life after Andy Flower, and it was hardly a pleasant experience.