Zimbabwe v Pakistan, 1st Test, Harare, 1st day September 3, 2013

Saeed Ajmal takes gloss off Zimbabwe's day


Pakistan 249 for 9 (Azhar 78, Misbah 53, Ajmal 49*, Panyangara 3-71) v Zimbabwe
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Even 24 hours before the toss, there had been uncertainty over whether this match would take place as Zimbabwe's players were again threatening a boycott over delayed payments. The Test started on schedule but Zimbabwe were hamstrung as Sean Williams decided he wouldn't play till he was paid, and their regular captain Brendan Taylor was away on paternity leave after his son was born late on Monday.

Few teams have had such major distractions to deal with, and there had been concerns about whether Zimbabwe's players would be able to focus on the challenges of Test cricket. The home side's bowlers, though, responded superbly to reduce Pakistan to 182 for 8, before some of the gloss was taken off by a battling ninth-wicket partnership between Saeed Ajmal and Junaid Khan.

The first hour was near perfect for Zimbabwe. The trio of Tendai Chatara, Tinashe Panyangara and Shingi Masakadza may have little Test experience and only moderate pace, but their accuracy and movement left Pakistan hobbling at 27 for 3 by drinks.

Once again, Misbah-ul-Haq walked out with his team having lost early wickets, and began more adventurously than you'd expect from him in the first session of a Test. Along with Azhar Ali, Misbah extricated Pakistan from the hole caused by the top-order's failure. After lunch, the pitch had settled down a bit, and both Misbah and Azhar reached their half-centuries. The stand had grown to 93, and the pair was looking comfortable in the middle.

This was supposed to be the big challenge for Zimbabwe - could their bowlers keep the pressure on when the conditions eased out? They didn't have to, as Misbah attempted one of those occasional, unpredictable big hits over the leg side and miscued to short midwicket. Prosper Utseya had even more to celebrate soon after, as Asad Shafiq also tried a wild slog and ended up inside-edging it to leg slip for 4.

Zimbabwe's bowlers could take more credit for the wickets in the morning session. The basis of their early success was a steady line and length, constantly questioning the batsmen around off stump and getting the odd delivery to swerve around or bounce awkwardly. They posed enough of a threat to give the stand-in captain, Hamilton Masakadza, the confidence to put three slips in place for much of the first hour. Panyangara and Chatara had the ball snaking both ways, and the batsmen guessing.

Mohammad Hafeez had racked up the runs in the recent limited-overs matches, but his Test form has been suspect this year. The South Africa Tests had been a humbling experience for Hafeez, and there weren't many runs today either as he again poked outside off, handing second slip an easy catch.

His opening partner, Khurram Manzoor, had even more at stake as he was playing his first Test in three-and-a-half years. He was cautious early on, not attempting anything flashy, and had seen off 11 overs when a big incutter from Panyangara struck him on the pads. The ball looked like it would sail over the stumps, but the umpire disagreed and Manzoor had to trudge off.

Younis Khan began his innings looking for quick singles, and he was dismissed when the ball spun back onto the stumps after an attempted forward defence. Younis had taken a couple of steps down the track after playing the delivery and could only watch the ball roll back towards the base of middle stump.

Zimbabwe were cock-a-hoop at that stage, but Misbah and Azhar slowly deflated them over the next couple of hours. The frontline trio kept testing the batsmen but the odd loose ball crept in, which Misbah profited off. He didn't bat in a manner that has earned him the nickname tuk-tuk, but went for his strokes and he was rewarded especially towards the end of the morning session as Elton Chigumbura and Utseya offered some easy runs.

Pakistan began in a similarly confident mode after lunch and Zimbabwe's limited attack seemed set for a struggle. Azhar had a bit of a battle through the forties, taking his time to complete the final steps of his half-century but Pakistan were slowly levelling the game. The responsibility on Azhar grew after the ordinary strokes from Misbah and Shafiq left Pakistan at 132 for 5, and he continued to bat sensibly.

Zimbabwe's bowlers built on the advantage soon after tea, getting three quick wickets, and the innings seemed set for an early finish when Azhar nicked to the slips. Pakistan were still some way away from their previous lowest total against Zimbabwe (231), but Zimbabwe just couldn't deliver the final blows.

Though Ajmal may not have the most orthodox technique, his merry swinging of the bat proved extremely effective late in the day. He signalled how he was going to play with a murderous straight hit over Utseya's head early in his innings. With Junaid flailing at everything but somehow staying in the middle, the partnership began to swell. Zimbabwe turned to the new ball in search of the breakthrough but that only quickened the run-flow with Ajmal's hook for six off Chatara among the highlights.

The home team's frustration continued as the pair resisted for more than an hour, and it wasn't till the final over of the day that Junaid finally edged to the keeper, after countless misses. Ajmal was still unbeaten on 49, and the stand of 67 had lent some respectability to Pakistan's innings.

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Muhammad on September 4, 2013, 10:16 GMT

    It is once again proved that Rahat Ali is not capable enough to play for Pakistan. He is too wayward with his line and length. Only pace is not required of fast bowlers and even in pace he is just above average.

    Junaid Khan requires a solid partner with him in bowling. Wahab Riaz and Ehsan Adil should be played in next game along with Junaid Khan. Only one spinner is required in Zimbabwe. Only one of Ajmal or Rehman, whoever performs better in this game, should be there in next game.

  • Aamir Shehzad on September 4, 2013, 10:12 GMT

    Some bonus tail-ender runs and much needed partnership of 67 from Ajmal and Junaid but as I said yesterday in Test matches bowlers win games for you and not batters.

    We have inexperience pace attack and our spin is neutralized by the conditions we can win Test match in UAE with Ajmal and Rehman but outside UAE I hope Pakistan can still save this Test match and come back harder in next match. Misbah doesn't stays on the wicket in Test matches, Hafeez plays like ODI in Test matches only good player is Azhar Ali, I don't know what is the role of Asad Shafiq? Worse batting line-up who can't even score 300 against Zimbabwe.

    We will be having 2 series in UAE against SA and SL and I don't think even in UAE we stand a chance with this kind of players. Australia have far better bowling attack than Pakistan even they struggled to pick wickets in Ashes due to lack of experience. I hope Pakistan can make an escape from here as thats what we are known for!

  • Jason on September 4, 2013, 10:02 GMT

    Is this really the same Pakistan team that whitewashed England 2 years ago, I do wonder about some of Pakistans results.

    I wonder what the odds are on a Pakistan loss?

  • Yasir on September 4, 2013, 6:55 GMT

    Such days have come that we Pakistan batting has to rely on Ajmal..What a team we got here.Good job Whatmore & PCB..Now we can't even bat properly against teams like Zimbabwe.That small hope i had about the bright future of Pak batting,that hope was crushed today..

  • Dummy4 on September 4, 2013, 5:33 GMT

    When you play so little test matches, this is bound to happen. But, even then Pakistani batsmen should have batted much better. I do not know and understand what is wrong with Asad Shafiq. He is such a good batsman with solid technique but throws away his wicket most of the time. M positive Pakistan will bounce back hard in 2nd inning....

  • Sandip on September 4, 2013, 4:58 GMT

    The highlight of 1st Day for PAK is an excellent temperament by Azhar Ali. How could miss he a ton? Some credit for ZIM medium fast bowlers due. The most pleasant look since long time is Misbah scoring with unfamiliar brisk rate at the beginning of the inning. Ajmal having a sword in his hand presenting freestyle show for some bored home fans. How about 3 Mr. Perfectionist Zimbabweans Chatara, Shingi & Panyangara? Doesn't matter no money!! Truly Greatest Showmen!!!!

  • Manesh on September 4, 2013, 4:29 GMT

    another great batting performance by Pakistan. Hopefully they can create another history here.

  • khalid on September 4, 2013, 1:50 GMT

    Av v poor batting show by Pakistan test team not the fault of players no warm match, as usual poor team selection,batting order, shot selection of players and a good fight back by Saeed Ajmal bringing a hope for the team to take on Zimbabwe positively as the bowling is perhaps better but short of a pacer for the test match if the pitch fail to response to spinners finger cross. Internal problem of Zimbabwe MUST be address as its gives a bad taste to international cricket.

  • Bludging on September 4, 2013, 1:37 GMT

    Zim looked okay from what I saw of the match, bit of talent there to work with. They just need exposure and a consistent program.

    The ICC should just take over management of the Zim team and run it directly.