Pakistan aim to avoid upset
The selectors have resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes although two debutants are likely to line up on Monday. Nasir Jamshed, the 18-year-old , looks set to partner Salman Butt at the top of the order following an impressive 182 in the four-day match against the Patron's XI. Also in line for his first call is Samiullah Niazi, the left-arm quick, who took a five-wicket haul in the tour match last week and is currently the second highest wicket-taker in domestic cricket.
If Jamshed does open, it means Kamran Akmal - Shoaib Malik's preferred choice as opener - will move down the order, thus potentially taking out one of the slots for a bowling allrounder. Malik will then be left with the dilemma of where to find his fifth quota of 10 overs and the captain will have to shoulder extra responsibility with the ball.
Malik is back at the helm after missing the last two Tests against India with an ankle injury and is ready for the challenge. "Without taking Zimbabwe lightly, I think it's a good opportunity for us to try some youngsters, especially with a series against Australia coming up."
Zimbabwe, despite being beaten by an innings and 34 runs in the tour match, remain confident of upsetting the odds. Prosper Utseya, Zimbabwe's captain, warned Pakistan not to underestimate them. "We didn't play the tour match to the best of our abilities, " he said, "but the team is confident and with our recent victories against Australia and West Indies, no one can take us lightly."
Utseya is set to return after he missed the four-day game with an ankle problem he picked up in South Africa and will have a fitness test on the morning of the match, but might be without Gary Brent, his senior seamer, who missed the last training session with a stomach upset. Along with Utseya, Sean Williams will also undergo a fitness test on the ankle sprain he picked up against the Patron's XI.
Coach Robin Brown admits that turning over Pakistan in the series will be very difficult, but wants his team to put Pakistan under pressure early on. "The idea of a series win is far fetched at the moment especially because we don't want to think that far ahead," he told Cricinfo. "However, it is imperative that our side starts well. If we manage to win the first two matches, who knows what we might be able to achieve later on."
Zimbabwe have only beaten Pakistan twice in 35 matches and their last meeting was at the World Cup when Imran Nazir hit a memorable 160 and Zimbabwe collapsed for 99 during Inzamam-ul-Haq's emotional farewell. Given that this tour is all about making progress, Zimbabwe's first challenge is to make sure they don't get hammered by such a vast margin. The Karachi pitch is expected to aid stroke play and with the contest being a day-night affair, the late start will nullify the early-morning movement so with young bowlers on both sides, the stage is set for a high-scoring contest.
Pakistan - Salman Butt, Nasir Jamshed, Younis Khan, Mohammed Yousuf, Shoaib Malik (capt), Misbah-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal (wk), Sohail Tanvir, Samiullah Niazi, Iftikhar Anjum
Zimbabwe - Vusi Sibanda, Hamilton Masakadza, Tatenda Taibu (wk), Brendan Taylor, Sean Williams, Timycen Maruma, Prosper Utseya (capt), Keith Dabengwa, Ray Price, Christopher Mpofu, Elton Chigumbura
Faras Ghani is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo