Pitch a challenge for inexperiened attack - Hafeez
Zimbabwe and Pakistan have not played a Test match against each other in nine years, a time span in which both teams have changed considerably. They were expecting a few surprises. But the biggest mystery of the day wasn't provided by either side, it came from the Bulawayo pitch.
With a fair covering of green on it, Misbah-ul-Haq was probably justified in putting Zimbabwe in to bat, a decision that became questionable midway through the first session. "I was surprised that it [the pitch] didn't do much," Vusi Sibanda said after the day's play. "It seamed a little bit to start off with, but after about five overs it flattened out."
The batsman escaped the proverbial Green Mamba and it was the bowlers who had to avoid being bitten by it. Pakistan's opening pair of Sohail Khan and Aizaz Cheema failed to impress, with neither able to trouble the batsmen. "They tried to do quite a bit, which made it easier to score," Sibanda said. "Cheema bowled quite well with the new ball and got it to swing a lot more, but Sohail was just bashing out that length, hitting the bat really hard and was a lot straighter."
Even though they did not create a breakthrough, Pakistan's opening batsman and offspinner, Mohammad Hafeez said that it was a fine challenge for an inexperienced attack. "This is a learning process for our bowling attack," he said, "because they are not mature enough at this level yet."
Hafeez acknowledged that the "day belonged to the Zimbabweans", and even hinted that Pakistan may have taken their opposition, and their prowess as a Test nation, a little lightly. "Their application in Test cricket was impressive, especially as they were out of it for the last three or four years," he said. "The way they came back against Bangladesh boosted their confidence."
Tino Mawoyo, whose unbeaten 82 anchored the Zimbabwe innings, was the batsmen that took the day away from Pakistan. "He showed good technique, he really showed what was required of Test cricket," Hafeez said. "He was passionate and determined."
Mawoyo batted through the day, and took 161 balls to get to his fifty, after a characteristically slow start. Sibanda, his opening partner, said that approach is the one Mawoyo flourishes with. "That's his game, he likes to take his time," he said. "Once he gets going he will carry on and he will be looking to get a big one. He will probably struggle to sleep tonight though."
Mawoyo's toughest task was dealing with offspinner Saeed Ajmal, whose doosra he was unable to pick. Sibanda was also victim to Ajmal's wrong 'un and felt that he let himself down by not capitalising on a good start. "I've just got to be a bit hungrier, because I think I gave my wicket away today," he said." I have to try and convert those 30s and 40s into bigger scores."
Still, Ajmal, he said, was one of the more difficult bowlers he has had to face. "There's not much difference between his doosra and the normal offbreak, so you have to pick it through the air," he said. Although Mawoyo struggled against Ajmal, he put up an exceptional fight, something that Sibanda thinks is starting to define the new era of Zimbabwean cricket.
He said the team were looking forward to facing Sohail Tanvir, despite signs that the pitch will reverse swing, and were disappointed that he was left out of the starting XI. "I was looking forward to facing him [Tanvir] in the Test," Sibanda said. "It would have been a challenge considering that the last time I played against him was a bit of a challenge. We were hoping he was going to play."
Without the threat of Tanvir, Zimbabwe's middle order will probably feel more at ease trying to put on a significant first innings score, which will serve them well as the match wears on, because of the nature of the pitch. "It's an unusual wicket, because it is also breaking up. It might have been a good toss to lose actually," Sibanda said. "Anything around 370 plus would be decent and psychologically it will play on their [Pakistan's] minds as well."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent