<
>

Iqbal steers Pakistan to comprehensive victory

Another cricket match, another easy victory for Pakistan. Faisal Iqbal enjoyed his day with a century, but after another appalling batting display by Zimbabwe's top order that threatened to complete the match before lunch, only a superb fighting hundred by Grant Flower made it - and some entertainment for the Saturday afternoon crowd - possible. The tourists won their fourth straight victory by eight wickets, in the 36th over.

On another hot sunny day, with another good-looking pitch at Harare Sports Club, Zimbabwe changed the usual script and batted on winning the toss. They made two more changes to their team, replacing Craig Evans and Mluleki Nkala with former captain Brian Murphy and all-rounder Travis Friend, another whose accuracy is often in question. This completed a change of the entire specialist bowling line-up from the Bulawayo matches.

Pakistan rested captain Waqar Younis from this match, Mohammad Sami returning, and Inzamam-ul-Haq took over the reins. Openers Saleem Elahi and Taufeeq Umar, having feasted lavishly, relinquished their places at the banquet table to Misbah-ul-Haq, his first tour match, and Younis Khan.

Flower's innings, together with 48 from Friend, stood out among a dismal array of single-figure innings by Zimbabwe's psychologically challenged batsmen. Zimbabwe owed everything to these two as they totalled 210 all out after being 13 for four and then 31 for six.

Zimbabwe responded to batting first on a pitch with good bounce but only occasional movement with an execrable display from their top order. They were given a wrong-footed start by local umpire Ahmed Esat, who sent back Mark Vermeulen (9) lbw to a delivery from Shoaib Akhtar that was heading down the leg side.

Within minutes, Alistair Campbell (0) had helpfully steered Mohammad Sami into the gully, while Andy Flower left first ball, quite uncharacteristically driving too ambitiously given the situation and being caught at slip. When Dion Ebrahim (2) chopped a ball from Shoaib on to his stumps from a crooked back-foot shot, Zimbabwe were 13 for four and looking as bankrupt in the batting department as in their bowling. Or, more likely, it was simply a lack of guts and determination. 25 minutes after the start, the match was already as good as over as a contest.

A brief stand followed between Grant Flower and Sean Ervine, before the latter steered Mohammad Zahid to second slip to depart for 5; Zimbabwe 36 for five. The shambles continued as Mohammad Sami caught the edge of Tatenda Taibu's bat, for wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal to take a good flying catch, sending him back without scoring.

Grant Flower was still there, although most of the time struggling for survival rather than asserting his authority. Travis Friend began cautiously but grew in confidence, playing his strokes wisely until on 48 he drove too ambitiously at Shahid Afridi and was bowled. Zimbabwe were now 123 for seven, after a partnership of 82.

Grant, now working the ball skilfully around the field, went on to reach his fifty off 89 balls, although it had seemed a lot longer in the context of the game. Gary Brent (8) drove over a ball from Sami and Brian Murphy was given out, under-edging an attempted pull off Sami to the keeper, after several replays. Zimbabwe were 164 for nine.

Douglas Hondo stuck in while both sides then played their usual games trying to manipulate the strike with the last pair together. Grant reached one of his finest fighting centuries off 144 balls in the penultimate over and finished unbeaten with 105, exactly half the total, as Hondo, with one ball to go, swung at Saqlain and skyed a catch for 5.

Kamran Akmal, promoted to open the Pakistan innings with Faisal Iqbal, was soon hammering boundaries with gay abandon, mostly through cuts or off-side drives. As on Wednesday, Zimbabwe's bowlers were not as wildly erratic as they had been in Bulawayo, but they were unable to threaten and even their small indiscretions were punished by outstanding batting. Again, three difficult chances went down, luxuries that Zimbabwe certainly cannot afford with their lack of bowling.

Kamran, the escapee on each occasion, raced to 38, became bogged down as the bowlers tightened up, and then edged Hondo to the keeper for 44; Pakistan were 58 for one. Faisal took over the role of main aggressor, while Zimbabwe managed to put down two more chances. Gary Brent was the most economical bowler until Faisal decided to take control, hitting him for two sixes and a four in the same over.

Faisal, who had not batted in his previous two matches in this one-day series, proceeded to his century, but an attempted quick single to reach three figures resulted in the run-out of Younis Khan for 56. The pair had added 151 for the second wicket. In the next over Faisal reached three figures, off only 97 balls (10 fours, 3 sixes), and Misbah-ul-Haq followed up with the winning run.