Chigumbura suspension a big blow - Masakadza
Zimbabwe stand-in captain Hamilton Masakadza has described the suspension of in-form batsman and captain Elton Chigumbura as a ''big blow'' for his team ahead of the second ODI on Friday. He, however, said that this will allow the reserve players to step up and grab their opportunity.
Chigumbura was suspended for two ODIs for maintaining a slow-over rate during the first ODI. He scored 117 off 95 balls to give Zimbabwe an outside chance of chasing down Pakistan's 375, but the visitors lost their way, finishing on 334 for 5. Zimbabwe will also be missing the services of Craig Ervine, who sustained a hamstring injury, and will be out for the remaining two ODIs. Masakadza last captained Zimbabwe in ODIs in 2009 and also in three games on the previous tour to Pakistan in 2008 when the visitors lost all matches.
"Obviously it's a big blow on both fronts, in terms of the way he's been batting and also in terms of his leadership out there on the field," Masakadza said. "But what's being done is done, we have to move on from here and hopefully the guys sitting out step up and fill in his shoes. But still we can give Pakistan a tough time as the guys that are sitting out are waiting to have their chance and go out there, so whoever gets fit can step up and play well."
Zimbabwe, who are yet to win a game on the tour, have tested the Pakistan but haven't seized the key moments. "Obviously we haven't played bad cricket, we've got into good positions at times, it's just a matter of working to make sure we get into the same positions but making sure we try and follow through with better results.
"The main thing is the wicket has been very good to bat on, it's been batter-friendly conditions so we expect a lot of high scores, so it's not a real reflection of our bowling as it's just the conditions. It has been really warm, but I don't think the heat has made too much of a difference because both T20s were played at night, so it's only in the first one-dayer that we fielded during the day which was quite warm, but I don't think that's been really the difference, we just haven't been upto our skills level to finish the games off."
Pakistan, on the other hand are eyeing their first series win in last 17 months after the 3-2 victory over Sri Lanka in December 2013. Captain Azhar Ali stressed on the importance of victory. "Winning the series not only keeps our chances alive in Champions Trophy but also allows us to win a series after long time. So every match is important for many reasons but the Champions Trophy is the target on our minds."
Azhar was not too perturbed on Chigumbura missing out the remaining ODIs and said that Pakistan would stick to their best to beat Zimbabwe. "I think he played a very good innings [in the first ODI] but as opponents we don't bother whether he plays or not. We have to be at our best. Its unfortunate because he is their main player and is in good form so there will be advantage for us. He was their captain as well so its a big loss for Zimbabwe. Obviously as opponents we wanted a full Zimbabwe side but its an advantage for us and we would like to capitalise on it."
In both the T20s Zimbabwe scored over 170 and came within 41 runs of chasing 375 in the first ODI. Apart from Wahab Riaz, who bowled his 10 overs for 47 runs, the other fast bowlers were expensive - Mohammad Sami conceded 63 in 7 overs while Anwar Ali leaked 81 in 10.
"Our batting is doing very well but if you look the pitches are very good for batting so sometimes it gets tough for bowlers," Azhar said. "We need improvement in bowling. Ball was slipping out of the hands and it was tough to bowl yorkers, because it got wet because of the dew. I think conditions were tough for the bowlers. May be we gave away more runs and needed to get them out for less but conditions were tough for bowlers."
When asked why Sami and Anwar couldn't emulate Wahab, Azhar said, "It comes to strength, the way Wahab did well with short balls and that suits him. He did well under these conditions and you may feel that other bowlers do not have that ability and that's why you had a difference.
"Sami is on a comeback and has been bowling well in domestic cricket for one or two years so we will have to give him time as we have brought him back. We can't doubt his ability as he bowled well with the new ball and troubled the batsmen but couldn't do well in the second spell."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson