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January 29, 2008
Pakistan and Zimbabwe head for the Iqbal Stadium, Faisalabad, for the fourth ODI of the Mobilink Cup, the hosts having already won the series with three not-entirely-convincing wins. With four wickets and 130 runs (at an astonishing strike-rate of 158) in the series, Shahid Afridi has had a say in proceedings at all three venues and Zimbabwe won't be looking forward to Faisalabad: Pakistan's last match here, against South Africa, was won by Afridi with 3 for 37 and an 18-ball 32.
With nothing left to play for, more debuts are on the cards for Pakistan. Khalid Latif, captain of the World Cup-winning Under-19 team in 2004, looks set to open the innings with Nasir Jamshed. He has scored nearly 600 runs at an average of 42 in the domestic season to date, and can be expected to add further dash to the start to the innings.
Sohail Khan, the Karachi-based right-arm fast bowler, also looks certain to make his first appearance to spice up an unimpressive pace attack that has failed to dismiss Zimbabwe at all this series. Sohail, with 68 wickets in ten first-class matches during his debut season, intimidated Zimbabwe with his pace during a tour match in Karachi but a shoulder niggle has kept him out of the series thus far.
The board's policy of introducing new faces during the series was welcomed by the captain, Shoaib Malik, who said healthy competition for places and gauging back-up strength were crucial ahead of a busy season. He, however, shrugged aside concerns about the bowling arguing that batting-friendly tracks have made the work of the new bowlers harder.
Even though the series is already wrapped up, Malik said that Zimbabwe will not be let off easily as Pakistan aim for a clean sweep. "The introduction of new players does have an effect on the team and results may not come out convincing," he said. "But I'm quite satisfied with their performance so far and we will give our best in the next ODIs, aiming to win them both obviously as we prepare for the Australian series."
Zimbabwe, meanwhile, want to instill the "killer instinct" that, according to their coach Robin Brown, has been lacking on the tour so far. They failed to restrict Pakistan after reducing them to 78 for 5 in Multan and then, with 145 required off the last 20 overs with seven wickets in hand, Zimbabwe went on to lose the must-win game by 37 runs. They will again be without their captain, Prosper Utseya, due to an ankle injury that is likely to keep him out of the remainder of the series, but Brown, as always, remains optimistic of his young, and experienced, side.
"It is disappointing to lose Utseya not only as a captain but also as one of our specialist bowlers," Brown said. "However, the team needs to move on and win the match with what we have. We will be discussing the team combination and strategy tonight and might change things round since the series is already lost."
As their seam attack has mostly struggled, Timycen Maruma, the right-arm legspinner, may feature for the first time this series as Zimbabwe look to adopt a different approach with the ball. Christopher Mpofu, the right-arm fast bowler, may also be recalled to aid the medium-pace of Tawanda Mupariwa who captured a career-best four-wicket haul in Multan.
Morale, however, might be understandably low, especially after their failure to reinforce good positions. Apart from the stumble in Multan, Zimbabwe had Pakistan in trouble at 178 for 5 - chasing 233 - in Hyderabad but dropped catches and let the match slip. Brown, though, remains hopeful that the team will learn from those missed opportunities and take something from the series.
"We are still confident and there is no problem with the morale in the dressing room," he said. "We know we have lost three matches on the trot but we have not been dismissed yet and that is taking positives from the loss. The side is desperate to win and we shall put on our best performance in the remainder of the tour.
"We have played well throughout the series but have failed to bring out our best in all three departments of the game," Brown added. "When we bowled well, we batted poorly and after batting well, we dropped catches and ended up losing."
The pitch again looks batsman-friendly, meaning that Zimbabwe's plan will be much the same again: win the toss, bat first and score big against another new-look Pakistan attack. Dew will play a part in the second innings, so any chase will have to be 280-plus, even against a batting line as nervy and untested as Pakistan's.
Pakistan Nasir Jamshed, Khalid Latif, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Shoaib Malik (capt), Misbah-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Sohail Tanvir, Kamran Hussain, Sohail Khan
Zimbabwe Vusi Sibanda, Hamilton Masakadza (capt), Sean Williams, Tatenda Taibu (wk), Elton Chigumbura, Brendan Taylor, Chamu Chibhabha, Gary Brent, Ray Price, Christopher Mpofu, Tawanda Mupariwa
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?