Run-fest expected in Multan
The Mobilink Cup journeys across Sindh to the province of Punjab, with Pakistan aiming for a series-sealing victory against Zimbabwe. A hard surface at the Multan Cricket Stadium, complemented by a lush green outfield, promises a run-spree.
Zimbabwe have already been dealt a blow with Prosper Utseya, their captain, ruled out of the match after an injury to his left ankle resurfaced while batting in Hyderabad. Utseya was forced to sit out the tour match against Patron's XI in Karachi with the same problem.
Shoaib Malik, Pakistan's captain, shied away from naming his final XI but confirmed that the board's policy of trying out new players will be adhered to tomorrow as well. However, with Pakistan keen to wrap up the series, they are unlikely to tinker too much with the winning combination of the last two matches, the only expected change being the highly-rated Sohail Khan coming in place of the dropped Samiullah Khan.
"Our plan for the series was to try one or two players in every match," Malik said in Multan. "We have an ideal opportunity to build up our back-up before the Australia series and we plan on sticking to it. However, it's an important match because we can wrap up the series. We will try and avoid wholesale changes."
Pakistan's batsmen - bar the failures of Salman Butt - have benefited greatly from some poor bowling by Zimbabwe. Nasir Jamshed, the 18-year-old opener, has been a revelation with two attacking half-centuries in his first two ODIs. With the middle order and Shahid Afridi among the runs, self-destruction is Pakistan's only batting worry.
Pakistan's bowling, however, has been a cause for some concern. They have failed to bowl out Zimbabwe so far; their fast-bowling trio of Sohail Tanvir, Samiullah and Rao Iftikhar Anjum has not threatened consistently enough. Tanvir stood out in Hyderabad, utilising helpful conditions to good effect, but the rest have been below-par. Malik's ploy of playing only three specialist bowlers - using himself, Afridi, Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq as the fourth and fifth bowlers - has not been a complete success.
In Utseya's absence, Zimbabwe will be led by Hamilton Masakadza, who shared an enterprising 137-run third-wicket partnership with Tatenda Taibu in Hyderabad, revealing not only Pakistan's limited bowling, but also a pleasing maturity in Zimbabwe's top order.
Though Zimbabwe are down 2-0, they remain confident that they are not out of it yet. "We have played good cricket throughout the tour and have been unlucky to be on the losing side in all matches," Utseya said on the eve of the third ODI. "We are taking each game separately and by working on a few areas that we lacked on previously, we hope to make it 2-1 tomorrow."
It would help if they took their catches; in Hyderabad they dropped five, compounding the problems of a wayward and inexperienced bowling attack. Robin Brown, Zimbabwe's coach, was more than aware of these failings and insisted they were being rectified. "Obviously nobody drops catches on purpose and a few of them were not straightforward. However, the drops came at crucial junctures and we have worked on those problems."
|Bat first and bat big may well be the order of the day|
Utseya's ongoing troubles with his ankle have meant that Masakadza has often been in charge on this tour, though Brown ruled out that it had hurt the team unduly. "Even though we have been forced to play with different captains, we plan things before the team takes the field," he said. "We sit down and discuss our strategies and apart from the bowling changes [that's the captain's decision], what you see on the field is a result of combined thinking."
A quick scan of the pitch convinced Zimbabwe's team management of its trueness and likeliness to aid strokeplay. If they win their third toss on the trot, batting first is a given. "It looks like a decent batting pitch out there," Brown said. "Winning the toss, we plan on making first use of it and posting a total in excess of 280."
Pakistan opted to bat the last time they played here, but a target of 230 against South Africa was overhauled with over 12 overs to spare. Dew played a part back then and is expected to play a part again on Sunday. Bat first and bat big may well be the order of the day.
Pakistan Salman Butt, Nasir Jamshed, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Shoaib Malik (capt), Misbah-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal (wk), Sohail Tanvir, Iftikhar Anjum, Sohail Khan.
Zimbabwe Vusi Sibanda, Hamilton Masakadza (capt), Brendan Taylor, Tatenda Taibu (wk), Chamu Chibhabha, Sean Williams, Elton Chigumbura, Gary Brent, Timycen Maruma, Ray Price, Christopher Mpofu.
Faras Ghani is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo