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Faras Ghani in Hyderabad
January 23, 2008
After Pakistan's convincing win over Zimbabwe in their opening match of the Mobilink Cup in Karachi, the two teams head to the unfamiliar territory of the Niaz Stadium in Hyderabad, where no international match has taken place for ten years.
Although Pakistan's team management is believed to be keen on playing another bowler and using the wicketkeeper, Kamran Akmal, as an opener, the selectors are understandably reluctant to tinker with a winning combination. Pakistan though will hope for an improved performance from their inexperienced pace trio - Iftikhar Anjum, Sohail Tanvir and Samiullah Khan - who between them managed only two expensive wickets in Karachi.
Samiullah, on debut, went wicketless while conceding 60 runs, which was particularly disappointing, especially after such an impressive performance for the Patron's XI against Zimbabwe in the tour match before the series.
Pakistan were never seriously tested during Zimbabwe's run-chase at Karachi, and so their strategy of playing only three specialist bowlers didn't come under scrutiny. They ended the match with the bit-parters Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq bowling the last eight overs between them.
The strength of Pakistan's batting - all of whom, bar the unfortunate Salman Butt, went about their work ruthlessly in Karachi - and Zimbabwe's weakness with the ball means it may not matter. Twenty-three fours and eight sixes in Karachi do not fully depict the intensity of their stranglehold over Zimbabwe's bowlers. But five half-centuries in the innings - a world record - meant Zimbabwe were under attack from the very first over with Nasir Jamshed, the debutant opener, leading the way.
The captain, Shoaib Malik, is understandably confident of another Pakistan win. "We are looking forward to giving our best in the next match to extend our lead," he said. "I'm quite satisfied with the team's overall performance and am confident that they will perform even better in Hyderabad."
Zimbabwe, in light of the mauling their bowlers received, may decide to bring in Gary Brent. He was missing at the National Stadium after a stomach upset left him dehydrated and unable to take part in training, but with 74 ODI wickets, he remains the squad's highest wicket-taker. A gritty batting display in the four-day match against Patron's XI means Brent will also add substance to Zimbabwe's lower order.
While the bowling provides their captain Prosper Utseya with reasons to worry, the batting will give him considerable hope. Even though the chase at Karachi was stiff, Zimbabwe were given a brisk start and while Vusi Sibanda was in the middle, the merest glimmers of an upset remained. Two more half-centuries followed and the fact that Pakistan were unable to dismiss them will give Zimbabwe a boost ahead of Hyderabad.
With both sides relying more on their batting, the toss could be an important one. The early start (9.15am local time) means the conditions should assist seamers in the first few overs. Never at ease in such conditions, Pakistan will still retain distressing memories of facing up to a lightweight attack in bowler-friendly conditions. If he wins the toss again, Utseya might bowl first to play to his strengths and Pakistan's relative weakness.
Niaz Stadium has not hosted a Test for over 23 years and the last ODI played here was way back in 1997 when Pakistan beat India in a low-scoring match. However, Hyderabad hosted six Quaid-e-Azam Trophy matches here this season. Judging by the numbers on display - 29 half-centuries and nine centuries in those matches - the pitch is partial to runs, though an early-morning wobble might have to be negotiated first.
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