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Faras Ghani in Faisalabad
January 30, 2008
A sense of deja vu prevailed amid the light mist engulfing the Iqbal Stadium in Faisalabad. Zimbabwe won the toss, stumbled at the start, Tatenda Taibu and Sean Williams put on a rescue act, a stutter followed and they ended at least 50 short of a competitive total. The script was very similar to that of the second match in Hyderabad where Zimbabwe had let the initiative slip.
Early successes in the field followed, but the shallowness of their bowling attack, and a lack of pace and penetration resulted in their fifth successive loss of the tour.
Disappointed by his own performance as well as the team's overall show in the field, Hamilton Masakadza, Zimbabwe's stand-in captain, said his bowlers simply didn't create enough chances.
"Sean and Tatenda provided a great start once again but, as before, we failed to capitalise on that," Masakadza said. "There is a lot of disappointment but by not creating opportunities, we made things difficult for ourselves. We have a match to go and we need to improve our bowling in order to get a result out of it."
The failure of the top order has been a worry for Zimbabwe. Vusi Sibanda and Masakadza have managed starts of 45, 16, 10 and 7 so far in the series. The pressure, as a result, fell on a middle order that has coped remarkably well. Taibu has three half-centuries in the series while Williams followed up scores of 51, 3 and 71 with an attacking 48 off 56 balls today.
"Our strength is our middle order and they have been staging the recovery in light of our poor performance at the top," Masakadza said. "I think it is a matter of playing as many matches as possible to gain the required amount of experience and not repeating the same mistakes again."
Shoaib Malik, the Pakistan captain, was all smiles after a Man-of-the-Match winning performance with three crucial wickets and a 99-ball 88 at No.3, in place of the rested Younis Khan. Malik praised a fine team effort, as well as an enterprising century from Mohammad Yousuf, and was confident of completing a 5-0 whitewash with his young side.
"The youngsters have been really impressive in the series so far," Malik said. "Winning is not easy even if you are playing a weaker side and it has been a commendable effort from the young bowling attack to restrict Zimbabwe."
Shrugging aside calls that his team, especially the debutantes, have not been tested thoroughly by Zimbabwe, Malik argued that the players performed impressively in conditions which tested them.
"The pitch was on the slower side today and the ball wasn't really coming on to the bat. Yousuf played a gem of an innings but the good start was given by our bowlers early on."
Pakistan will get another opportunity to test more new players in Sheikhupura where the final match of the series will be played, on Saturday. For Zimbabwe, it will be a chance to put a disappointing tour behind them and deliver the performance that their captain and coach have long been talking about.
A look back at five high-profile exhibition matches