Zimbabwe v Pakistan, only Test, Bulawayo, 3rd day September 3, 2011

Cautious Pakistan set the base

The visitors chugged along far slower than was expected of them on a flat pitch that offered nothing to an inexperienced Zimbabwe attack

It was a summer's day so warm that Tatenda Taibu walked out to field in a floppy hat rather than his usual cap or helmet and Pakistan's players probably depleted the town's entire stock of sun cream. There was the kind of balmy breeze threading its way through the trees that made it pleasant enough to sit outside and just the right amount of golden glow for people to laze in its aura. So, that's what Pakistan's batsmen did.

Pakistan made 241 runs in the day's 91 overs, chugging along far slower than was expected of them on a flat pitch that offered nothing to an inexperienced Zimbabwe attack. They made few attempts to find the fast-forward button even as it glowed in front of them. Instead, they preferred to keep their finger on pause, occasionally venturing in the direction of rewind and even more occasionally hitting play at the regular speed.

Still, caution is not a quality to be frowned upon, especially when the merits of a solid base are weighed up. Every team needs someone who can amass runs without risk. They need a player who can conjure up the concentration to maintain a strike-rate of less than 40 for the better part of two days, but inch his way to a massive total.

They need one, perhaps two of these, but for some reason, Pakistan felt that it was a good idea to have three of them grind out the day. Only Mohammad Hafeez and, surprisingly, Misbah-ul-Haq, showed any signs of intent or forcefulness on a day when a little of either could have gone a long way.

Azhar Ali crawled to a competent 75 off 193 balls, Younis Khan laboured to an unbeaten 61 off 193 and Umar Akmal scratched to 15 off 39 before being caught off the rebound from a ball that hit short leg. All three batsmen clearly possess the ability to bat more eloquently but opted for inhibition instead.

Pakistan indicated that one of the aims of this tour was to blood youngsters. It's a necessary task for any team that involves some on-the-job training, like how to build an innings in international cricket. Still, Test matches cannot be used as training grounds and there is a match to be won and a reputation to enhance and neither of those are likely to be achieved with the kind of batting Pakistan had on display today.

Conditions may deteriorate going into the last two days, with some dust clouds floating around on the third day. The substantial grass covering was thought to act as a guard against excessive breaking up but the heat has dried the surface, causing the cracks to come to the fore. It will also slow down but the batsmen can still expect to have an advantage over their bowling counterparts, especially the seamers, who are destined for more drudgery in the remainder of the match.

Still, Pakistan may have had justifiable reasons for their application and method today, with more of them being individual than collective. Azhar Ali's approach, for example, may stem from his poor conversion rate. In 13 Test matches, including this one, he has scored nine fifties but no hundreds. He has been out twice in the nineties - first when he was stranded on 92 against England at The Oval in August last year and then two months later against South Africa, when he reached 90 only to fall victim to Dale Steyn. He has scored half-centuries in both innings of matches against South Africa and West Indies, helping save Tests on those occasions, but he has yet to bring up the three-figure mark and looked set to do so today.

At first, he acted as a foil to Hafeez who was going for his shots, but when Younis came in, the brakes were firmly pressed on. The senior statesman of the Test side had said that he wanted to show youngsters how to build a team total of 500 or 600. With circumspection his middle name, Younis approached his task in supremely measured fashion. He could well be demonstrating the effort required to score half a thousand runs, although he may need a Test longer than five days to do it in.

Misbah had a refreshingly sparkly attitude to his innings which started off with the characteristic forward defensive that is a thing of beauty in itself. The elegance and poise that goes into playing the least profitable of all shots is remarkable but most were thankful that they didn't have to ensure too many of those today. He took on Greg Lamb, in particular, and ensured that he didn't get bogged down by some nagging bowling.

Umar Akmal's reservation was perhaps the most unexpected of the lot. A naturally aggressive strokeplayer, Akmal was tied down by the seamers, who had learnt that they couldn't pitch it up quite as much as they would like to, and the spinners, who were benefitting from the few cracks that had started to emerge. Like all the other batsmen before him he was dropped but he looked set to solider on and will be disappointed to have got out on the close of play.

Pakistan will certainly prefer to bat once and at the pace they are going, it seems likely that will happen. With a long tail, their lethargic approach today may have benefits if they can complement it with a burst tomorrow, to give themselves a lead and enough time to bowl Zimbabwe out.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jawwad on September 4, 2011, 13:14 GMT

    Firdose. I told you so it be a 4 day cracker and not the 5 interesting days in Bulawayo as you hoped. Great job by you on match summaries. Great job by Zimbabawe, welcome back to Test Cricket days. Great job Pakistan, welcome back to winning ways. From here on rise Pakistan Cricket from the ashes.

  • Dummy4 on September 4, 2011, 13:01 GMT

    I think Pakistan is doing well, they are just being over cautious, rightly so, after what they have been through lately. One more thing I'd like to point out is that pak usually doesn't outclass smaller teams like Zimbabwe, they always win marginally (when they do) after tons of hard work. But they always give tough time to good teams like Australia and South Africa. Its their Trait, their Trademark !

  • Too on September 4, 2011, 10:42 GMT

    Stupid batting, if against Zimbabwe bowling and on a flat pitch like this, Pakistani batsman cant achieve a Strike rate of 50/60 what the hell trhey will do against good teams..........too caucious and coward approach Pakistan has developed a habit of losing, thats why they would be happy for a draw against Zimbabwe....whata shame

  • Dummy4 on September 4, 2011, 6:46 GMT

    The tone was set by Zibabwe who took too long for their 412. Pakistan with their second string bowlers could not force the pace of the game as Zimbabwe had decided to block everything and just accumulate. The pitch prepared was also different then what they had for the Bangladesh matches, it took neither spin nor swing. Pakistan saw that and I think, decided that it is futile to go for a win as the picth was dead so in essence it was dead test match from the moment it started. In fact, if Pakistan wanted to win the game they would have chosen to bat after winning the toss. I feel it is Pakistan which went on the defensive by putting in Zimbabwe.

  • khurram on September 4, 2011, 6:15 GMT

    well i would still say dont hit run a ball but strike rate of 45/46 isnt that risky or fast. younis & azhar did strike @ 30s they should have get atlast 20 runs each with ease. now umar gone it wil be difficult to score fast to get healthy lead. agree about azahr he always plays nearly 200 balls but the fell so that way he wont b able to make any 100.

  • Srinivas on September 4, 2011, 3:51 GMT

    This is beautiful approach by Pakistan. It'll be hard for them to lose from here. They still have the time to go for a win if they get a decent lead. Good luck to Pakistan. World cricket needs them. I have to commend Zimbabwe for batting so well. Take a bow! Well played both of you.

  • Salman on September 4, 2011, 1:02 GMT

    The article is written in a very sarcastic tone; understandably so given the way Pak went about putting there plan to action. It wasnt preetty to the eye but at the end of the day what matters is IF they will win the Test. Cant compare Zimbabwe inning to Pak because we talking about Zimbabwe; hello , they just got a chance to play Tests after how many years??? Its a shame that after all the talent Pak have they come up with this strategy.

  • Dummy4 on September 3, 2011, 20:21 GMT

    Interesting. Zimbabwe scored their 412 at a run rate of 2.73. And you are complaining about Pakistan scoring at almost 3 runs per over? Hmmm... Anyways, a dusty, slow pitch is what this is. You get what you pay for...

  • shahid on September 3, 2011, 18:18 GMT

    I think the criticism is uncalled for and they did nothing wrong in being cautious. When you bat second and you are trying to counter 400+ and are under pressure of playing a some what minnow team, you don't to loose. The approach applied gives them only two possibilities now, either they take a handsome lead and then try to win it or it can only go to a draw. If they can manage a lead of 80+ then the match has enough time in it for pakistan to try and win the encounter.

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