Younis and Malik take Pakistan home
Close Pakistan 258 for 7 (Shoaib Malik 80, Younis Khan 77, Panyangara 3-28) beat Zimbabwe (Taylor 73, Ebrahim 71*, Taibu 46*) by three wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
A superb opening spell from Tinashe Panyangara raised visions of an upset, but Shoaib Malik and Younis Khan rallied to inspire a three-wicket victory for Pakistan in the second match of the Paktel Cup at the Arbab Niaz Stadium in Peshawar. Panyangara's medium-paced swing bowling had reduced Pakistan to 48 for 3, but the lack of quality back-up meant that Pakistan were never seriously under pressure to keep up with the asking rate. A late cameo from Shahid Afridi, the hometown hero, was the icing on the cake for a crowd that had sportingly cheered Zimbabwe's gutsy effort.
Brendan Taylor and Stuart Matsikenyeri gave Zimbabwe the perfect start, and Dion Ebrahim (71*) and Tatenda Taibu (46*) provided the final flourish as Zimbabwe tallied 252. With Pakistan struggling in reply, the much-maligned Younis came in and played a superb innings, taking singles at will and smashing the loose deliveries into the gaps. A huge six off Mluleki Nkala in the 46th over effectively ended the contest, even though Douglas Hondo had the consolation of yorking Yousuf Youhana, the stand-in captain, for just 14 (240 for 6).
Afridi came in to bat with a runner, but that didn't cramp his style, and a huge six over midwicket off Hondo sent the crowd into raptures. Pakistan eventually eased past the target with 11 deliveries to spare, but not before Younis, who had batted brilliantly for his 77, was needlessly run out after tapping the ball to Elton Chigumbura at mid-on.
Panyangara had struck in the very first over, inducing Yasir Hameed to go after a perfectly pitched outswinger. Taibu pouched the edge, and Pakistan could reflect on another opening partnership gone wrong. Salman Butt, though, was soon into the groove, stroking a glorious straight drive off Hondo, and then creaming him through the covers thrice.
Bazid Khan couldn't match his fluency, and after pottering around for nine balls, he shuffled across to be hit high on the pad. Panyangara and the Zimbabweans went up, and Asad Rauf, the umpire, lifted his finger, though Hawk-Eye might have taken a more charitable view.
Butt was in fine form, and had cruised to 30 at a run-a-ball when he played too early at a Panyangara delivery. The leading edge flew to Chigumbura at mid-on, and Pakistan were in real trouble. Fortunately for them, it didn't get worse, with Mark Vermeulen grassing a chance low to his left at second slip after Malik had poked at one from Panyangara.
Misbah-ul-Haq and Malik then took a heavy toll on Hondo, whose line was all over the place. A couple of powerful cuts, and flicks through the onside, increased the run rate, but Hondo persevered until Misbah (23) played back to one that took the edge through to Taibu (89 for 4).
Younis, who had kept wicket instead of the rested Moin Khan, came in and provided the ideal foil for the more belligerent Malik. Both treated Prosper Utseya, who bowled another tidy spell, with respect, but pinched easy runs off the likes of Taylor and Matsikenyeri.
Malik smashed Matsikenyeri for a six over midwicket, and with Younis also finding the gaps with ease, victory appeared a formality. The partnership had swelled to 114 when Malik (80) lofted one from Nkala in the direction of long-on where Matsikenyeri, who had fumbled on two previous occasions, took a stunning catch diving to his right (203 for 5).
Zimbabwe had found runs hard to come by early on after being sent in by Youhana, and both Taylor and Matsikenyeri did well to survive a hostile spell from Mohammad Sami. While Iftikhar Anjum at the other end was tidy without being unduly threatening, Sami got steep bounce and consistently pushed the batsmen on to the back foot.
Matsikenyeri got going with a powerful cut and a superb off-drive off Sami, and a deft flick over square leg off Anjum. Taylor, just 18, was circumspect in the initial exchanges, but once Sami was replaced by the gentler pace of Naved-ul-Hasan, he got into his stride with two gorgeous cover-drives.
Naved wasn't spared by Matsikenyeri either, with 15 coming off one over. Having conceded just 36 in the first 12 overs, Pakistan had suddenly bled 30 from the next three. Malik and Afridi stemmed the tide somewhat, but after a hesitant start, the batsmen were brimming with confidence.
That was to be Matsikenyeri's undoing. Largely untroubled on his way to 41, he gave Afridi the charge and spanked one straight to Sami at long-on. Vusi Sibanda, who came in next, didn't even face a ball, stranded up the pitch after Afridi had dived full length at short fine leg to stop a sweep from Taylor, and throw the ball to Malik at the bowler's end (87 for 2).
Taylor and Ebrahim batted with great discipline in the middle overs, picking up singles, and setting the stage for the final onslaught. Taylor's assured 73 ended only when he smashed Naved straight to Youhana at mid-off (159 for 3). When Vermeulen was completely deceived by a Naved delivery that swung in to take out the off stump, it appeared that Pakistan might restored some sanity to proceedings.
But Taibu and Ebrahim took charge with some brisk running between wickets and some innovative strokeplay. Taibu showcased his intent from the outset, pulling Anjum for six over square leg. The return of Sami into the attack didn't deter him, with a hoick over midwicket adding to Pakistan's frustration.
Ebrahim was no slouch either, flicking Sami over square leg for four and then driving Naved - who went for a whopping 82 from 10 overs - through cover. But it was Taibu, with powerful shots emanating from that pint-sized frame, who applied the finishing touches, with a mighty six onto the roof of the temporary stand at square leg after Naved had persisted in dropping the ball short.
For more than two-thirds of the reply, it looked like 252 might be enough. But Pakistan dug deep to ensure that Cinderella wouldn't reach the ball.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.