Shehzad, spinners sink Zimbabwe
Pakistan 161 for 5 ( Shehzad 70, Afridi 23*) beat Zimbabwe 136 for 5 (Taylor 32*, Afridi 3-25) by 25 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Zimbabwe had their moments where they stretched Pakistan with a confident start in their chase of 162, but tackling the spinners in the middle overs was always going to be the bigger proposition. Pakistan's spin trio - led by Shahid Afridi - put the stranglehold on the scoring with regular wickets and the hosts found the target rapidly slipping away from them. Once the required rate neared an improbable 12, the final passage of play turned tepid.
In both innings, Pakistan found the going tough in the first half of the innings but clawed back in the second. Ahmed Shehzad weathered a sluggish start with a solid half-century that set the base for Shahid Afridi to play his natural game and push Pakistan to a competitive score. The Pakistan seamers struggled to contain the openers, but following a few quiet overs of spin, the momentum shifted. Brendan Taylor was looking to play himself into some form, after a poor series against India, and he didn't have the time or an attacking partner at the other end to help his side reclaim the edge.
After being put in to bat, Pakistan lost their first three wickets inside nine overs, all off questionable shots. Tendai Chatara accounted for the first two, and his second wicket to get rid of Mohammed Hafeez was made possible thanks to a brilliant reflex catch by Taylor. That catch was a good example of Zimbabwe's fielding in the early part of Pakistan's innings, but they couldn't put enough pressure on Pakistan in the second half.
Pakistan progressed to a less-than-satisfactory 57 for 3 after ten overs, but the turning point in the innings came in the 12th over. It was Elton Chigumbura's first and he leaked 17, which included a pulled six by the debutant Sohaib Maqsood and two swept boundaries by Shehzad past short fine leg. Pakistan ensured they maintained that momentum till the end of the innings, picking 75 runs off six beginning from the 12th.
Maqsood looked promising in a stand of 55 with Shehzad, pouncing on anything short from the seamers. After pulling Chigumbura over deep square leg, he tried to clear the straight boundary the following ball but was done in by an impressive running catch by Vusi Sibanda.
Shehzad's knock was vital in giving Pakistan a base to build on, which was crucial given the under par scores from the rest of the top order. He managed only one boundary in the first ten overs and began to open up in the company of the confident Maqsood. He was caught on the edge of the long-on boundary for 70, attempting a second six. Afridi, sent in at No.6, made a cameo 23 to give the bowlers a solid score to defend.
Sibanda and Hamilton Masakadza helped Zimbabwe race to 35 off five overs - at the same stage Pakistan had already lost two wickets. Taylor said at the toss that Zimbabwe were more comfortable chasing, and the openers certainly gave the impression. Sibanda didn't look too troubled by Mohammad Irfan's pace and lift, improvising by arching his back to steer the ball wide of the fielders on the off side.
Saeed Ajmal was brought on in the sixth over as damage control. Captain Hafeez reverted to his seamers and Anwar Ali struck in the first over of his second spell when he trapped Hamilton Masakadza lbw attempting to pull a ball that wasn't short enough. A set Sibanda lost his leg stump to Afridi, staying back to a flat, quicker delivery. Sean Williams was trapped lbw on the sweep, but didn't appear satisfied with the decision.
What Taylor needed was a form partner and the team management probably erred by not promoting Elton Chigumbura. Chigumbura performed better than some of the specialists in the one-dayers against India and when he walked in today Zimbabwe needed in excess of 17 an over. Timycen Maruma, who came in ahead of him, faced 13 balls for ten runs, at a time when Zimbabwe were desperate for a massive surge. The spinners held sway and the margin of victory was a comfortable 25 runs.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo