Taufeeq and Youhana take Pakistan home
The classy elegance of Yousuf Youhana and the true grit of Taufeeq Umar combined to lead Pakistan to a facile eight-wicket victory in the Sharjah Cup. Coming together with the team in a spot of bother, they added 144 for the third wicket to put the game to bed with 14.4 overs to spare. Youhana's 61 was especially imperious, though Taufeeq's 81 did his future claims no harm at all - a display that made up with determination what it lacked by way of style.
Heath Streak had given Zimbabwe hope with two wickets, only for Taufeeq Youhana to extinguish it with a commanding batting display. Streak struck early, getting Mohammad Hafeez to play a loose stroke outside off stump. Craig Wishart pouched the catch at first slip and Pakistan were 10 for 1. Faisal Iqbal came in next but made just 6 before flicking a Streak delivery straight to Gavin Rennie at midwicket (28 for 2).
Youhana though started confidently and Zimbabwe compounded their problems with some erratic and wayward bowling. Andy Blignaut was the chief culprit and Umar cashed in with some super shots on the legside. Once Streak left the attack, the sting went too and Sean Ervine was greeted with two hits to the boundary ropes.
With Taufeeq then dropping anchor, Youhana decided to up the ante, playing two gorgeous straight drives off Douglas Hondo before thumping Ray Price for six over long-on. Presumably, the Thursday nightlife in Sharjah/Dubai was worth getting off work early for.
Once both batsmen crossed fifty, the shots were played with more of a flourish and before you knew it, it was all over. Truth be told though, this match was won for Pakistan by an inspired opening burst from Mohammad Sami, who confounded the Zimbabwe batsmen with his extra pace and bounce. Despite a superb, gritty innings of 74, in adverse circumstances, from Tatenda Taibu, Zimbabwe were shot out for 168.
Taibu's partnerships with Ervine - who made a defiant 25 - and Dion Ebrahim gave the total some respectability but Sami's early burst of 3 for 20 from six overs meant that they were always behind the eight-ball.
Zimbabwe's tale of woe started as early as the third ball of the innings, which Wishart tickled through to Latif behind the stumps. Rennie pulled Umar Gul for four soon after but he had no answers to the pace of Sami. A delivery that left him a shade had him marooned to the crease, and the outside edge was gleefully accepted by Latif, for his 200th dismissal in ODIs (19 for 2).
Douglas Marillier, who had earlier survived a vociferous appeal for leg-before, didn't stick around very long either. Sami set him up with a short one, and the next ball sent the leg stump for a triple somersault (22 for 3). Marillier made 14.
Much rested on Grant Flower, but he made just seven before a crude hoick off Shoaib Malik went straight to Younis Khan at short square leg (36 for 4). Taibu, who nudged and pushed the ball around, while scampering through on those little legs, rebuilt the innings with Ervine, who announced his intent with a superb cover-drive off Malik.
Two fours in an over off Abdul Razzaq and a sweep for four off Malik saw the run rate go up a notch, but that was spoilt by a poor decision from umpire Jayaprakash. Ervine went for another sweep off Malik, and the ball ballooned off his pad to Latif behind the stumps. Latif's appeal was loud and Jayaprakash's finger went up in a trice (82 for 5).
Ebrahim and Taibu then added 40, taking the score to the respectability of three figures before a reckless shot signalled the beginning of the end. Ebrahim flayed at a wide one from Danish Kaneria and the ball flew off the leading edge to Malik at point (122 for 6).
Hafeez then chipped in with two wickets, trapping Streak leg-before for 0 - going for the paddle sweep - and taking a superb diving catch to send back Blignaut (127 for 8). Kaneria's flipper did for Price and Zimbabwe were tottering at 133 for 9. Taibu though finished with a flourish - spanking Sami for two fours in the penultimate over and adding 35 for the final wicket with Douglas Hondo - and remained unbeaten on 74 at the end, receiving a word or two of congratulation from the Pakistanis as they left the field.
Taibu's pocket-sized heroics notwithstanding, the target was unlikely to ask questions of any batting line-up, even one as brittle as Pakistan's. So it proved. After a World Cup to forget, Rashid Latif and his refashioned side celebrated the early days of the renaissance with a trophy, that too in the 2000th one-day international to be played.