Finance and Pakistan pose twin challenges for Zimbabwe
Match factsSeptember 3-7, 2013
Start time 1000 local (0800 GMT)
Big PictureSeven years ago, Pakistan were part of the first ever forfeited Test. This morning they were on the brink of being part of the first forfeited Test series, with the Zimbabwe players considering a boycott over unpaid salaries. Fortunately, the worst-case scenario has been avoided: Zimbabwe confirmed on Monday afternoon that they will take the field in Harare, with Zimbabwe Cricket saying it is working on clearing its dues before the second Test, which begins in Bulawayo on September 10.
If the money is not transferred before then and the players stand their ground in Bulawayo, there will be a bonus of sorts: Zimbabwe will qualify for the ICC's Test rankings after the Harare Test, having finally played the requisite number of games for the first time since their return to Test cricket in August 2011 after more than five years of self-imposed exile. And, irrespective of the series scoreline, they'll return in some style, straightaway leapfrogging Bangladesh to No. 9.
That said, Zimbabwe's troubles are likely to spill over onto the field. In Pakistan they face an opponent whose batsmen are best suited to the gentle pace of the long format and bowlers include potent pacers and arguably the best spinner in world cricket today. The hosts, on the other hand, come into the series with - in their coach's words - a concern about "how are we going to get 20 wickets" and an unsettled opening combination. In the preceding limited-overs games, their fielding was a shambles too. Add to that the question of morale following recent events, and you see just how high the odds are stacked against them.
Pakistan last played a Test match in February. In that series, against South Africa, they were blanked 0-3. Before that, they lost a series to Sri Lanka. They'll know this is their best chance to begin to correct their record of the past year, and if they do pull off a 2-0 win they'll gain two ranking points, widening the gap between themselves at No. 4 and Australia at 5. They'll be quietly confident of doing just that, with the shock loss in the first ODI a fast-fading memory given the two easy victories they registered thereafter. They had few problems cruising to a seven-wicket win the last time their Test side was in Zimbabwe, in September 2011.
Both sides have availability issues leading up to this match. The in-form Mohammad Hafeez had strained a hamstring in the third ODI and, though the injury is not serious, is a doubtful starter. Brendan Taylor's participation would depend on when his child is born - his partner went into labour on Monday.
Form guidePakistan LLLDD (last five matches, most recent first)
Players to watchTino Mawoyo is back in contention after recovering from a groin injury that kept him out for five months. In their last four Tests, Zimbabwe have tried several opening combinations, with Vusi Sibanda, Timycen Maruma, Hamilton Masakadza, Regis Chakabva and Mawoyo all trying out. Still, they've managed only one score above forty, and no half-century stand. In Harare, Mawoyo is very likely to feature as opener, given his relative success against Pakistan - in 2011 he scored a gritty, unbeaten 163 against them to become only the third Zimbabwe player to carry his bat. That's exactly the kind of fight Zimbabwe will be looking for in Harare.
It goes without saying that Zimbabwe will be challenged by Pakistan's spinners. However, with the conditions expected to offer the pacers a little bit of help in the mornings, Junaid Khan's swing could be just as lethal as Saeed Ajmal's doosra. He had missed the second and third Tests of the South Africa series with a skin ailment, and will be keen to get back to the long format and improve on his promising start in Tests: he has 29 wickets in nine matches at 28.17, made all the more impressive by the fact that a chunk of his matches have come on the unresponsive UAE tracks.
Team newsPakistan will take a call on Hafeez only on the morning of the match. It is very likely that he will be ready but if he doesn't play, Azhar Ali and the recalled Khurram Manzoor - who was brought into the squad after Imran Farhat opted out for personal reasons - are likely to open. Wahab Riaz, who was also recalled for this series, will probably partner Junaid with the new ball.
Pakistan (probable) 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Khurram Manzoor, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Adnan Akmal (wk), 8 Wahab Riaz, 9 Saeed Ajmal, 10 Junaid Khan, 11 Abdur Rehman
As has been the case all through this tour, Zimbabwe named their squad late on the eve of the first match. Their 16-man squad had a few key figures missing from the Tests against Bangladesh, with Ray Price having retired, Kyle Jarvis having moved to England and Graeme Cremer having made himself unavailable due to the money issue. Sean Williams was named, even though it was understood earlier in the day that he would not play until paid.
Zimbabwe (probable) 1 Vusi Sibanda, 2 Tino Mawoyo, 3 Hamilton Masakadza, 4 Brendan Taylor (capt), 5 Malcolm Waller, 6 Elton Chigumbura, 7 Richmond Mutumbami (wk), 8 Prosper Utseya, 9 Brian Vitori, 10 Shingi Masakadza, 11 Tendai Chatara
Pitch and conditionsThe pitch at the Harare Sports Club is expected to be not as dry as usual, and Zimbabwe will be thankful for that given the quality of Pakistan's spinners. The ball should swing around a bit in the mornings, but other than that the batsmen aren't likely to be tested much.
If the weather forecast is correct, and it is indeed cloudy on Tuesday, the captain winning the toss would want to bowl as the following four days are expected to be sunny.
Stats and trivia
- Pakistan have lost an away Test to Zimbabwe only once in eight matches - that defeat came in the maiden Test between the two in Harare, in 1995. Overall, Pakistan have lost only twice in 16 games to Zimbabwe
- Zimbabwe have played four Tests this year, but Brendan Taylor is the only batsman to aggregate more than 200 runs for them. With 391 runs at 55.85, he has the sixth-best average among batsmen who've played at least four Tests this year
Quotes"I think the big thing is the confidence and self-belief. If we had had a poor series, and we didn't have this belief, I'd be very worried about this Test series. But I think the guys know that they can go out there and score runs against Pakistan."
Zimbabwe coach Andy Waller thinks his team can feed off that famous win in the ODIs
"The biggest lesson we have learnt is: don't take any opposition lightly, especially Zimbabwe."
That ODI is still on everyone's minds, even Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq's
Nikita Bastian is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo