Malik and Yousuf power Pakistan win
A hundred from Mohammad Yousuf and a fine all-round performance by Shoaib Malik led Pakistan to a comprehensive seven-wicket win over Zimbabwe at Iqbal Stadium in Faisalabad. Yousuf and Malik put on 141 for the third wicket to steer Pakistan's chase, with Yousuf's 14th century the first in what has been a horribly one-sided Mobilink Cup. Malik's 88 added to the three wickets he took earlier to restrict Zimbabwe to 244.
The pair came together after Pakistan's newbie openers had gone by the 15th over. Malik had already settled by then, returning to the one-down role he had once made his own, with Younis Khan resting. He averages over 40 from 34 innings at No.3 and it was immediately easy to see why so many argue for him to move up the order. He was off the mark immediately, clipping off his toes for four and in the next over he drove and cut Gary Brent for a couple more.
Soon after, he twice cut Elton Chigumbura and then did likewise to Brent five overs later. Having grabbed the initiative then and with no real pressure, Malik's calculating approach came out, as he dabbed and nudged runs for fun. A swift fifty was brought up, and though he lofted Ray Price over the boundary and welcomed Hamilton Masakadza with a brace of boundaries soon after, he was more than happy to play second fiddle.
Yousuf, meanwhile, began regally, picking up singles when he felt like it and only occasionally breaking sweat to find the boundary. It seemed for a while as if he wasn't even there, at least until a late dab to third man in the 27th over brought up the fifty partnership.
He made his presence known after it, twice depositing Masakadza over wide mid-on to bring up his own fifty. His pace picked up to such an extent that only 34 balls later, he was bringing up an effortless hundred, the highlight of which was a magnificent loft over long-on off Price. The only blemish on a flawless innings was a mix-up with Malik, which prevented the captain from reaching a hundred of his own.
It didn't prevent Malik from taking the Man-of-the-Match award. He had already excelled earlier, prompting a slump as Zimbabwe - not for the first time in this series - let slip a position of considerable strength after opting to bat. Sean Williams and Tatenda Taibu had rescued the innings early, with an intelligent 85-run partnership, but just when much was promised, Malik dismissed both, and Brendon Taylor, during eight mid-innings overs.
The pair have been Zimbabwe's best batsmen this series and it was soon apparent why. Taibu repeatedly came out of his crease to neutralize the early swing which so bewildered the openers, most effectively when he drove Kamran Hussain past mid-off for the day's first boundary. He cut twice soon after, but the real spurt came from Williams in the 14th over.
Hussain tired after an impressive opening spell and Williams took toll, twice flicking him through midwicket for three and driving over point to bring up Zimbabwe's 50. He then targeted Shahid Afridi, driving him elegantly through extra cover to mark the fifty stand, before cutting and lofting him for six an over later.
Taibu provided typically impish support and at that stage, until Malik brought himself on little was of concern. But in his second over, Williams inexplicably chipped back two short of what would have been his third fifty of the series. Taylor went in Malik's next over and the drive quickly petered out of the innings. Taibu fell immediately after getting to his ninth half-century and runs soon slowed to a trickle.
Singles were grudgingly given up, boundaries even more so. Chigumbura and Chamu Chibhabha battled well without any great urgency and it was only at the death, through Keith Dabengwa, that Zimbabwe rallied. He took 19 off the last over, part of a 33-ball 45, to drag Zimbabwe to a competitive score. Competitive, but no more.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo