Afridi blitz wins Pakistan the series
Pakistan wrapped up the Mobilink Cup with a comfortable 37-run victory over Zimbabwe in what was, ultimately a dour, lifeless encounter in Multan. The only spark was provided, inevitably, by Shahid Afridi, who lit up the affair with a 52-ball 85, in the process rescuing Pakistan from a perilous 78 for 5. Zimbabwe battled away in their chase of 273, in particular Sean Williams and Brendan Taylor, but as has been the case at various points on this tour, they let healthy advantages slip.
In Hyderabad, they frittered away a promising position going in to the final ten overs and then dropped catches to make matters worse. Here, they had Pakistan reeling halfway through their innings, but somehow managed to concede nearly 200 runs in the second half to, essentially, the lower-order.
Until then, they had been disciplined, which was the doing mostly of Tawanda Mupariwa and fine opening spells from Elton Chigumbura and Gary Brent. The tone was set from the very first over of the innings, Chigumbura probing outside Salman Butt's off stump. It was a maiden and many more followed as Brent, at Mark Ealham's pace, found some lovely away-going curve against a left-handed opening pair.
Brent finally found reward for an outstanding spell when Butt cut to point in the 15th over. Thereafter, as Chigumbura finished his quota, Mupariwa took charge with a career-best spell. His first ball, a delicious, tempting in-dipper trapped Younis Khan in front. In his very next over, Nasir Jamshed pulled straight to short midwicket.
Zimbabwe were ecstatic when Shoaib Malik was run out, and they went beyond as Mupariwa reeled in the big one, Mohammad Yousuf. In truth, they didn't so much lose grip as have it snatched away from them by Afridi. He came in to this series the subject of debate: selectors wanted him to play, the team management were not keen. And yet, he has been indispensable thus far, taking wickets in Karachi, taking Pakistan over the line in Hyderabad and saving some blushes here.
Afridi's methods were no surprise; he equalled Sanath Jayasuriya as the leading ODI six-hitter, blasting six of them here and he was busy through the innings, running hard, but forever with an eye on the big heave. Ray Price was lofted for the first six and by the time Chamu Chibhabha was struck for two more a little later, a 34-ball 50 had been brought up.
Zimbabwe still had a chance, as Pakistan's bowling hadn't made an impression through the series and the wicket was flat. Sohail Tanvir, the one bowler who has made a mark, stymied early, fanciful notions sending back both openers. When Tatenda Taibu was run out in the 15th with just 50 on the board, it seemed over.
But Williams and Taylor then revived the innings with a partnership which put Zimbabwe in control of another portion of the game. They went about it intelligently, picking up the few boundaries they could, but hustling every run on offer. Williams hit three boundaries in his 50 and Taylor only two, yet the two put on 105 at just under five an over.
But just when it seemed Zimbabwe would launch a final surge, they again let slip the initiative. Taylor was stumped in the 36th over, with 118 still needed, and as so often happens, the partner went soon after. With Williams went the match. Pakistan will be concerned at an inability to bowl out Zimbabwe a third game running, but the visitors will rue yet another game where they were in it at various stages, only to lose it at critical moments.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo