Ajmal strikes but Zimbabwe take lead
Zimbabwe 281 for 7 (Waller 70, Raza 60, Ajmal 4-77) lead Pakistan 249 (Azhar 78, Misbah 53, Chatara 3-64) by 32 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Even after the strong showing of their bowlers on the first day in Harare, doubts persisted over whether Zimbabwe would pose a challenge, given the fragility of their Test batting, especially in the absence of Brendan Taylor, and the quality of Pakistan's attack. Those concerns were heightened soon after lunch, when both the set batsmen Vusi Sibanda and Hamilton Masakadza were dismissed off consecutive deliveries.
However Malcolm Waller, who found form over the past week after a miserable series against India, and the debutant Sikandar Raza underlined Zimbabwe's ability to stand up to the bigger teams with a 127-run partnership for the fourth wicket that put the hosts on course for the lead. They were ahead by 32 at stumps, and will probably need a few more considering they have to bat last in the game, when Saeed Ajmal's bag of tricks will prove a handful.
For the second day in a row, Ajmal did his bit to keep Pakistan from falling too far back in the game. On Tuesday, his unbeaten 49 had rescued Pakistan from 182 for 8, and today, after being dismissed first ball in the morning, he snared four wickets to keep Zimbabwe's lead from getting out of hand. Still, there can be no doubts over which of the two sides will be happier at this stage of the Test - Zimbabwe's stand-in captain Masakadza sported a huge grin and even tried out a couple of dance moves as he watched the final overs of the day.
The only time Pakistan looked like they could take control of the game was early in the second session, when Zimbabwe slipped to 68 for 3. Junaid Khan, the pace spearhead, was rewarded for a probing over in which he tweaked his line and length till he got it perfect on the final delivery, inducing Sibanda to nick to the keeper. Off the next ball, Ajmal fired in a straighter one and Masakadza was bowled as he played for the offspin.
Raza was playing his first Test and Waller hadn't scored a half-century in any format since his 55 at the start of the Bangladesh series in April. With the wicketkeeper Richmond Mutumbami not being a recognised batsman, the lower order didn't inspire too much confidence.
Waller, though, wasn't cowed by the situation, showing his confidence by hitting his first ball for four, a cover drive off Ajmal. That shot made a frequent appearance as Waller sprinted to 33 off 30 balls, with seven boundaries. In what had been a low-scoring game, that burst of run making shifted the pressure back on Pakistan, and made it easier for Raza to settle. Waller batted with an open stance and regularly cashed in on the width offered, slapping the ball past point, bringing up his half-century with one of those shots.
Raza was more cautious early on, but swiftly grew in confidence. He was assured while using his feet against the spinners, and after having spent an hour in the middle, he was bold enough to charge out and launch Abdur Rehman over his head for four. He also employed the sweep shot, and Pakistan's challenge began to fade around tea. In 10 overs either side of the session, Waller and Raza picked off 54 runs, and Zimbabwe were clearly on top.
That was the cue for Ajmal to produce another of his moments of magic, getting Waller to edge to slips. Raza then slammed a catch to midwicket, leaving Pakistan with an outside chance of taking the lead. Elton Chigumbura, however, has been a regular source of runs lower down the order, and once again he delivered, ending the day unbeaten on 40 to put Zimbabwe well ahead.
The lower-order resistance mirrored the resolve shown by the top order before lunch. Pakistan's quicks, Junaid and Rahat Ali, produced a number of testing deliveries but couldn't maintain a consistent line, though Junaid ended Tino Mawoyo's comeback innings ended on 13.
The other opener, Sibanda, had a difficult time early on, particularly against Rahat, and was struck on the forearm and later just above the waist. He played some graceful strokes as well when the bowlers erred, the highlights being effortless off-drives down the ground. When Rahat lost his line and length in the 19th over, Sibanda took him for three fours. Keeping him company was Masakadza, who launched a six onto the sightscreen in Ajmal's first over.
Zimbabwe then had their post-lunch wobble but showed enough spine to finish the day as frontrunners.
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo