Another baby step into the wild for Zimbabwe
September 1 - 5, Bulawayo
Start time 10:00 (8:00 GMT, 13:30 IST)
Zimbabwe's season for consolidating gains continues as they make another baby step into the wild. Outlasting Bangladesh's cavalier bunch on their Test return was momentous, but the real challenge begins now.
That win was founded upon Zimbabwe's resilience, and Bangladesh helped their cause by blinking first. Given that patience will once again be their calling card, Zimbabwe won't mind running into the masters of volatility themselves. Add the fact that Pakistan have arrived with a second-string squad, and indications are that we could be in for five interesting days in Bulawayo.
A look at the Pakistan squad suggests they may have overused the rotation system. The 17-member party includes four players uncapped in Tests, and five others with a combined experience of 24 Tests. The coach Waqar Younis is happy to have a bunch unfettered by the politics and controversy that have dogged Pakistan's cricket for long - "It is easier to deal with them," is how he chooses to put it. But deep down, Waqar will be aware that the fresh minds will need guidance through the hard yards of Test cricket in alien conditions, even if the opponents are not the most fearsome. Plenty will ride of Pakistan's experienced trio - Misbah-ul-Haq, Younis Khan, and Shoaib Malik, whose international career takes off yet again.
Pakistan's performance in the warm-up game raised cause for concern, as their batsmen - barring Younis and the impressive Azhar Ali - crumbled against an attack similar to the one they will face in the Test. The batting was suspect on the tour of the West Indies as well, especially on the tricky wicket at Guyana where Darren Sammy's induckers tormented them. Brian Vitori and Kyle Jarvis are capable of probing those weaknesses further - are Pakistan's newbies ready for the challenge?
Form guide(Most recent first)
Zimbabwe W (They have played only one Test since September 2005)
In the spotlight
Stop the press - Shoaib Malik is back again. He's not yet 30, but he's had a stint as captain, been banned by the PCB on disciplinary grounds before making a comeback, and been left out without explanation before being cleared by an integrity committee. There is a sense of symmetry to everything that has so far happened in his career, but there's one wrong he should be itching to correct. He has only played 32 sporadic Tests for Pakistan, averaging under 35 with the bat, while his bowling average is a woeful 61.47. The numbers are ordinary, especially when compared with his ODI record. Here's a chance to start afresh.
Brendan Taylor was inspirational both as batsman and captain against Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe will look to their leader once again. In seven innings across the Test and the five ODIs in that series, Taylor hit two centuries and a 71, but also ran up scores of 10, 3, 4 and 0. Admittedly, the failures were in the ODIs, but Taylor will be aware of the fact that he is at his most vulnerable early in his innings. Pakistan's seamers, the whippy left-armer Junaid Khan in particular, will be keen to nab him cheaply.
Malik sat out of the warm-up fixture, but given Pakistan's underwhelming batting effort in that game, he could be in line for a Test comeback. If Malik is included, Pakistan will have three offspinning options of similar vintage, with Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez more or less certain to play. Junaid will spearhead the inexperienced seam attack in Sohail Tanvir's company, while Aizaz Cheema and Sohail Khan are likely to fight it out for the remaining spots.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Taufeeq Umar, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Umar Akmal / Shoaib Malik, 7 Adnan Akmal (wk), 8 Junaid Khan, 9 Saeed Ajmal, 10 Sohail Tanvir, 11 Aizaz Cheema / Sohail Khan
Greg Lamb had Pakistan's middle order in a fix in the tour game, earning him a spot in the squad. With Elton Chigumbura out with a knee injury, Lamb could force his way into the middle order. Malcolm Waller is also in the squad, with Keegan Meth injured, but is unlikely to feature in the XI.
Zimbabwe: (possible): 1 Tino Mawoyo, 2 Vusi Sibanda, 3 Hamilton Masakadza, 4 Brendan Taylor (capt), 5 Craig Ervine, 6 Tatenda Taibu (wk), 7 Greg Lamb, 8 Ray Price, 9 Kyle Jarvis, 10 Chris Mpofu, 11 Brian Vitori
Pitch and conditions
The conditions at the Queens Sports Club tend to aid batsmen, with spin coming into the game in a big way in the latter stages. The pitch has some grass, though not green enough to leave batsmen anxious. With the temperature touching 28 degrees, the strip is expected to dry out quickly and flatten into a batting beauty. The seamers' best chance will be with the new ball, and both teams will be keen to make first use of the pitch.
Stats and trivia
- Two of Zimbabwe's four Test wins against top-flight opposition came against Pakistan, including their first ever victory in the format, in Harare in 1995
- Misbah-ul-Haq is yet to lose a Test series as captain. His tenure includes drawn series against South Africa and West Indies, and victory against New Zealand - all in away tours
- With 5617 runs, Younis Khan is the fifth-highest run-getter in Pakistan's Test history, 151 behind Saleem Malik who is fourth
"We still have a lot to prove and to show the world that we are a worthy Test team, but in time we will be able to do that."
Brendan Taylor knows his side is up against a tough challenge
"I have really enjoyed working with him and he has helped all of us. He is the one that makes the difficult decisions and we will miss him a lot."
Misbah-ul-Haq admits Waqar Younis will be tough to replace
Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo