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September 2, 2013
Pakistan were expected to dominate the ODI series against Zimbabwe, but the contest turned out to be closer than they would have liked. The loss in the first match was Pakistan's first defeat to Zimbabwe in any format in the last 15 years. Though they went on to win the three-match series 2-1, that game was a lesson for Pakistan in avoiding complacency and the risks of underestimating the hosts in their territory.
In spite of being the stronger team, Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq said the competition was unlikely to be lopsided, though his side have dominated in Tests between the two teams. In eight Tests in Zimbabwe since 1995, Pakistan have beaten the hosts six times, including the seven-wicket win in Bulawayo in 2011; the last time Zimbabwe won against the visitors at home was in 1995.
"We will have to be on top of our game," said Misbah. "We were here in 2011 and at that time Zimbabwe gave us a tough time in the Test. The way they are playing, we should not take them lightly because they are playing good cricket."
Pakistan's last Test victory came in February 2012, when they beat England 3-0 in the UAE. Since then, the team has been in a transition phase. The pace attack has inexperienced bowlers in the absence of Umar Gul, while Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman are shouldering most of the responsibility.
Their young seamers, Junaid Khan and Rahat Ali, are likely to open the attack with Wahab Riaz coming on as first change, even as Ajmal and Rehman handle the spin department. The batting line-up looks strong with Younis Khan and Misbah in the middle order. Mohammad Hafeez has not yet been declared fit, but if he does play tomorrow, the toss-up for the slot of his opening partner will be between an uncapped Shan Masood and Khurram Manzoor, who was recalled after three years. Azhar Ali is expected to come in at No. 3.
In spite of facing a team that's currently unranked as Test-playing nation, Misbah denied that Pakistan were taking the opposition lightly.
"It's important to win the series, whoever you are playing against. Winning Test matches is important, then come the personal goals," he said. "Your performances count all the time and we really want to perform well at that level. We have some new faces and really want to go with our main strength, give our 100%, because at the Test level, we want to win every game.
"We want to improve in our fast bowling and the lengths we are bowling on in these conditions. We especially need to improve our fielding. We have two spinners [Rehman and Ajmal] who have been performing very well. They have been winning Test matches for us and we really bank on them. At the same time, Junaid Khan is performing well at the Test level. These conditions offer something for both seamers and spinners, so whoever bowls well can get results. It's an opportunity for them to bowl well and take wickets."
Pakistan last scored over 400 runs in a Test match against Sri Lanka in 2012. The series against Zimbabwe, therefore, is a good opportunity for them to get runs before back-to-back-home series in the UAE against South Africa and Sri Lanka. Misbah was confident of his team's batting prowess.
"Two of our openers are new so one of them might play in the Tests, because we are not sure about Hafeez. Our batting line-up is very settled in Tests. After the openers, Azhar Ali has settled at No. 3 with Younis Khan at No. 4 or 5, and Asad Shafiq at No. 6. We had one series in tough conditions in South Africa, but I am hopeful that our Test batting line-up will do very well."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. He tweets hereFeeds: Umar Farooq
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