Pakistan complete clean sweep
A new-look Pakistan, without a handful of senior players, drove Zimbabwe into the ground with a comprehensive seven-wicket victory in the final one-dayer in Sheikhupura to clean sweep the Mobilink Cup 5-0. The overcast and bitterly cold conditions didn't faze debutant Khurram Manzoor and Younis Khan as they chased down a meagre target of 182 with 19 overs to spare.
The win was set up by Pakistan's sprightly young bunch - which included four debutants - who showed exemplary commitment in the field to keep Zimbabwe in check for much of their innings. The overcast conditions were tailor-made, it seemed, even for Pakistan's untested seam-bowling attack, and Hamilton Masakadza's decision to bat first was perplexing. After a top order wobble, Zimbabwe were lifted by a rearguard from Elton Chigumbura and Brendan Taylor, but couldn't sustain the momentum as Pakistan quickly clawed back to shoot them out for a woefully inadequate score.
Sharp reflexes - a refreshing change from earlier games - handed Pakistan their early wickets as Abdur Rauf managed to hang on to a low return catch, literally off his toes. Debutant Rizwan Ahmed's athleticism contributed to the next two wickets, first running out Vusi Sibanda with a fiery throw to the wicketkeeper from deep backward square-leg, and then holding onto a stunner to his left at cover to send back Tatenda Taibu. Wahab Riaz, one among an assembly line of left-arm quicks in this series, was the beneficiary for the second, a wicket in his first international over.
As the sun disappeared behind the clouds and the mercury dipped in Sheikhupura's first international match for nearly a decade, the situation got worse as Zimbabwe lost half their side before the halfway stage. Chigumbura and Taylor, however, buckled down and produced a stand of 85, against the run of play. Pakistan allowed the game to drift a little as bowlers were made to pay each time they erred. The boundaries were interspersed with intelligent running and before anyone knew it, the pair had added fifty.
Taylor, who's had an inconsistent series with the bat, punished anything on full while Chigumbura, a proven allrounder, took on Fawad Alam's left-arm spin and punished anything full and wide outside off stump, unfurling forceful drives. Rizwan, the legspinner, excelled in the field but had a forgettable debut with the ball as the pair feasted on his half-trackers.
But just when a lower-order revival threatened to push the score over 200, the spinners struck back, breaking up the stand. Thereafter Rauf returned to clean up the last two wickets with inswinging yorkers to end the innings with over four overs to spare.
Zimbabwe's attack lacked the sting and pace to cause Pakistan any trouble. Nasir Jamshed threw his wicket away early when the going was good, but Younis and Manzoor were determined not to miss out.
Manzoor was impressive, the bridge between domestic and international cricket seemingly invisible as he sized up his first ball with a firm backfoot punch to the cover point boundary. Busy at the crease, he was particularly strong with his bottom hand, unfurling another punch on the hop, this time beating the covers.
But Manzoor soon took a backseat as Younis arrived and the chase progressed at pace. Chigumbura suffered as Younis announced himself with a punchy square drive and then blazed three consecutive boundaries in his next over, immediately after the second Powerplay began. Each was classic improvisation, beginning with a scorching square drive, following it up with a straight six after exposing all stumps on the walk, and then ending with a biff over midwicket.
Younis didn't slow down once the spinners came on. Ray Price was welcomed with a reverse sweep and Keith Dabengwa's long hops were bludgeoned to the on side. He soon brought up his fifty with a sweep to fine leg. Manzoor, meanwhile, was providing solid support.
Both looked set to see Pakistan through, before recklessness set in. Younis fell slogging, while Manzoor was cleaned up sweeping across the line, just after reaching his half-century. By that stage, however, the deal had been sealed as Pakistan, after four unconvincing victories, ended on a high before taking on the Australians.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a staff writer at Cricinfo