Taibu stalls Pakistan's victory push
Zimbabwe 412 and 135 for 8 (Taibu 58*, Jarvis 20*, Hafeez 4-31) lead Pakistan 466 (Hafeez 119, Lamb 3-120) by 81 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Zimbabwe betrayed their rustiness at the Test level, undoing ten sessions of hard-earned parity by frittering eight second-innings wickets in 27.3 overs to leave Pakistan sniffing victory in Bulawayo. Pakistan's offspinners - Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez - were always going to be a factor on a strip dusting up after three days of inactivity, but Zimbabwe's nervous shot-making contributed to their downfall.
That the match did not end on the fourth day was down to a gutsy ninth-wicket stand worth 66, between Tatenda Taibu and Kyle Jarvis. Their effort highlighted just how poorly the top order had fared on a pitch that was not the minefield that their capitulation made it out to be. Zimbabwe finished the day effectively 81 for 8, and Pakistan will doubtless be reminded of their shambolic defeat in Sydney when Australia jail-broke from a similar situation in 2009. But against this inexperienced bunch, they are still well in control.
The draw still seemed the likeliest outcome when the third innings got underway, though Ray Price had shown that the wicket had some life it in. Zimbabwe's hopes would have been bolstered by the fact that they had somehow survived Ajmal's doosra in the first innings, despite not picking too many of them. Today, however, the mere threat of the doosra proved their undoing.
Vusi Sibanda exited even before Ajmal made an appearance, to his tendency to pull with little regard for length. It wasn't a particularly short ball from Aizaz Cheema, but Sibanda hauled it meekly to mid-on. Ajmal then took over, removing two of the three batsmen most likely to resist. Tino Mawoyo had prodded several times inside the line in the first innings as the doosra left him. This time, he shuffled across in an attempt to cover the doosra, leaving his leg stump prone to the offbreak. Brendan Taylor tried to negate the variations by reaching well out and sweeping, but he was still beaten by the turn and trapped in front.
Three balls later, Hamilton Masakadza inside-edged Cheema onto the stumps even as he looked to leave the ball. Hafeez then tormented the lower half with the minimally turning offbreak, a weapon that had worked well for him in the West Indies. He snuck a slider onto Crag Ervine's pads to leave Zimbabwe reeling at 45 for 5. Taibu was firm, but Hafeez kept striking at the other end as the tail seemed to mistake him for Muttiah Muralitharan.
Greg Lamb padded up to a regulation offbreak, Price played inside the line of a straight ball, and Brian Vitori heaved straight to midwicket. At 69 for 8, Zimbabwe were only 14 ahead and looking at an early finish, before Taibu and Jarvis showed resolve.
Taibu survived a nervous moment when he lofted Ajmal just out of the slow-moving Sohail Khan's reach at mid-off. After that he was solid, showing the virtues that easily make him the best player of spin in his side. His sure feet smothered the spin when the ball was full, while soft hands and the ability to cover the line helped him keep out the shorter ones. Gradually, Pakistan began to give Taibu the single, a move that played into his hands as he slog-swept Hafeez to bring up his fifty.
Jarvis plugged his end after enjoying an early let-off when Aizaz Cheema grassed a tough return catch. He was not too certain against Ajmal, but ensured Zimbabwe lasted another day.
Earlier in the day, Price was the only exception as Zimbabwe aided Pakistan's quest for a lead with listless bowling and atrocious catching.
Price homed in on the rough created at the Airport End, and began to rip the ball out of the footmarks past the right handers. Younis Khan, on 61 overnight, responded by charging out of the crease and launching him over long-on. After that, he reverted to stout defence. Unlike Younis, Adnan Akmal was constantly on the lookout for the extra run. He hurried Pakistan into the lead in the 136th over by glancing, driving and steering Jarvis for boundaries. Before long, though, his enthusiasm got the better of him and he ran himself out.
After 44 overs of supreme discipline, 23 of them maidens, Price finally struck. He found a way past Younis on 88, getting him to edge an over-pitched ball into Taibu's pad, for Taylor to take the rebound.
Ajmal slashed Vitori through point, before summoning the skill to loft Price over long-on. Masakadza then fluffed a sitter at gully - the sixth drop of the innings - and Sohail celebrated by biffing the next ball for six. Chris Mpofu's short balls, and Price's persistence eventually bowled Pakistan out 54 ahead. In hindsight, Zimbabwe may have been better served by not hastening the end of that innings.
Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo