Zimbabwe bring focus back to cricket
Match factsFriday, August 23, 2013
Start time 1330 local (1130 GMT)
Big PictureIn a relatively quiet month for international cricket, save for the ongoing marquee Test series in England, Zimbabwe and Pakistan have managed to shoehorn a series to fill a gap in the calendar. Shortly after the series was confirmed came the off-field distraction involving the Zimbabwe players and the cricket board. A familiar pay dispute led to fears over whether the tour would get under way but, thankfully, the players made peace with the board with the formation of a players union.
The dispute, however, disrupted the hosts' practice schedules and though they have since resumed training, it remains to be seen if it has been sufficient. This is in contrast to the preparations ahead of the recent home series against India. The players trained for ten weeks, but it wasn't enough to stretch an experimental Indian side. The batting was the biggest let down, followed by the fielding. The result was a 5-0 thrashing. It will only get tougher against Pakistan, who're playing full strength despite the low-profile nature of the tour.
Prosper Utseya, the offspinner, has insisted that the players are in the right frame of mind. "We have managed to put that [contractual issue] behind now and some of the players have been offered contracts," Utseya told the Zimbabwe Herald. "Obviously I am not sure what they've got, but they looked happy. It is good that ZC have managed to meet us halfway going into the series."
Series wins in the West Indies have given Pakistan confidence after the gloom of the Champions Trophy. The performances of the youngsters in the two T20s in the West Indies, including Umar Amin and Zulfiqar Babar, should have pleased them immensely. A few players have been busy in the Caribbean Premier League, though, among them, only Mohammad Hafeez features in the upcoming T20s. The rest of the squad have been training in Lahore.
Form guidePakistan WWWLW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Players to watchSikandar Raza is likely to play his first game against the country of his birth, but that alone shouldn't be the only talking point about him. Raza's 82 against India was the highest individual score by a Zimbabwe batsman in the series and though his form fell away in the remaining games, it marked him down as a player to watch. What Raza needs is consistent scores to keep his place in the XI.
Zulfiqar Babar had to wait till he was 34 to get his first opportunity for Pakistan. The left-arm spinner was picked in the T20 squad for the West Indies and had a dream debut, taking 3 for 23, but his job didn't end there. Batting at No. 8, Babar had the honour of facing the final ball of the match with one needed to win. He finished the game with a swagger, hitting a six. He ended the two-match series with five wickets and the expectations off him would have increased.
Team newsZimbabwe trimmed their practice squad to 15 on the eve of the series. There were no surprises in the squad.*
Zimbabwe (possible): 1 Vusi Sibanda, 2 Hamilton Masakadza, 3 Sikandar Raza, 4 Brendan Taylor (capt & wk), 5 Malcolm Waller, 6 Sean Williams, 7 Shingi Masakadza, 8 Prosper Utseya, 9 Natsai M'shangwe, 10 Brian Vitori, 11 Tinashe Panyangara
Pakistan are without Umar Akmal for the series, after he was withdrawn after suffering a seizure while flying in the West Indies. Sarfraz Ahmed was named the replacement wicketkeeper.
Pakistan (likely): 1 Nasir Jamshed, 2 Mohammad Hafeez (capt), 3 Ahmed Shehzad, 4 Umar Amin, 5 Haris Sohail, 6 Shahid Afridi, 7 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 8 Sohail Tanvir, 9 Zulfiqar Babar, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Asad Ali
Stats and trivia
- In the last bilateral series between these sides in Zimbabwe, in 2011, Pakistan won both T20s
- Shahid Afridi needs 84 more for 1000 T20 runs. Mohammad Hafeez is the only Pakistan batsman to pass that milestone. Umar Akmal is second with 929.
Quotes"Their batsmen are prone to cracking under pressure and that is what we will have to do if we are to get the better of them. We really need to put them under pressure and play smart cricket."
Zimbabwe's Prosper Utseya
* - 15.30 GMT, August 22, 2013 - Story updated following Zimbabwe's squad announcement
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo