Gritty Mawoyo makes it Zimbabwe's day
Zimbabwe 245 for 4 (Mawoyo 82*, Ajmal 3-75) v Pakistan
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Tino Mawoyo's determined stone-walling set up Zimbabwe's dominance on the first day at Bulawayo, as Pakistan were left to rue their decision to bowl on a pitch that had nothing in it for their inexperienced seamers. Mawoyo's effort was under the radar for the most part, as Vusi Sibanda and Tatenda Taibu provided the energy on a day of accumulation, when the biggest threat came from Saeed Ajmal's doosras.
Misbah-ul-Haq's call at the toss unravelled quickly in the hot and dry conditions at the Queens Sports Club. The new-ball pair of Sohail Khan and Aizaz Cheema, with a combined experience of one Test, showed heart and skill in the first hour, but withered thereafter against stubborn batting. The left-armer Junaid Khan was the best seamer on view, but Pakistan would have yearned to have their more skilful fast bowlers from the past.
The tone for the day was set early, as Sibanda and Mawoyo prospered without a fuss against the new ball. Sohail's outswingers landed too often on middle and leg, gifting away easy runs, while Cheema's inswingers delivered from wide of the crease seldom made the openers play. Mawoyo chose to be cautious, while Sibanda unfurled an impressive array of strokes. The shot that captured his comfort was the lofted pull, which he played more than once between mid-on and midwicket. Batting remained strife-free until Ajmal came on for the 17th over.
With Muttiah Muralitharan retired and Harbhajan Singh on the wane, Ajmal possesses arguably the most potent doosra. On a pitch that did not offer quick turn, he initially resorted to flight and drift from wide of the crease. His first 14 balls were all offbreaks that were negotiated easily. Then came the first doosra and Mawoyo, foxed by the variation, edged loosely to third man. In his next over, Ajmal repeated the dose, and Mawoyo groped inside the line. Two balls later Sibanda was gone, lulled out of his crease by a classic piece of deception. Zimbabwe went to lunch on 74 for 1, the session theirs despite the late breach.
Ajmal then deployed attacking fields, with four men around the bat and the vocal Adnan Akmal putting the batsmen under pressure. Junaid also played a part in the run-choke with four consecutive maidens in what was to be Pakistan's best phase on the day.
Mawoyo was gradually pushed into a runless rut before top-edging a pull that Sohail grassed at fine-leg. Pakistan weren't ruing the miss for long, as Masakadza missed a heave in Ajmal's next over to lose his off stump. Brendan Taylor was undone soon after, Ajmal trapping him on the crease with a big offbreak. At 111 for 3, Zimbabwe were losing the opportunity to consolidate the morning's gains.
Taibu, arguably Zimbabwe's best player of spin, took charge as the session gave way to Test-match grind. Cheema replaced Junaid, and in the absence of reverse swing, focused on pitching short of a length marginally outside off stump. Taibu checked in with two boundaries guided through third man when Cheema gave him width.
Mawoyo continued to fumble against the doosras, but to his credit, fought to a maiden fifty off 161 balls. Taibu, however, read Ajmal from the hand and asserted himself with a tight technique, decisive footwork, and soft hands. He welcomed Mohammad Hafeez with a dainty paddle sweep, before edging him to third man for boundaries, taking the partnership past 50.
Pakistan began with seam from both ends after tea, and the batsmen were rarely troubled until Junaid was denied what seemed a straightforward lbw shout against Mawoyo. Taibu drilled Junaid through point to enter the 40s, before gifting Sohail his first Test wicket when he edged a wide ball in the 66th over. Seven overs into the final session, Ajmal was back in action, plugging away from round the stumps. Mawoyo afforded himself a rare moment of indulgence, prancing out and hoisting Ajmal to long-off for four, and was promptly beaten by the doosra next ball. Craig Ervine matched Mawoyo in the cluelessness against the doosra, and a couple of them zipped agonisingly close to off stump.
Cheema was a letdown at the other end, offering width at an amiable pace, allowing Zimbabwe to find the odd boundary and crawl to 200 in the 74th over. The game meandered towards the second new ball, and the fact that Hafeez bowled the first over with it summed up what Pakistan now thought of the pitch. The dry grass on it had not fooled Taylor at the toss, but for Misbah, its assistance proved to be a mirage.
Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo