Zimbabwe v Pakistan, 1st Test, Harare, 4th day

Exausted Zimbabwe let it slip through the fingers

For 11 and half sessions before that interval, Zimbabwe had done most things right, but they let the game slip away in 8.3 overs on day 4

Firdose Moonda in Harare

September 6, 2013

Comments: 11 | Text size: A | A

Tinashe Panyangara in his delivery stride, Zimbabwe v Pakistan, 1st Test, 4th day, Harare, September 6, 2013
Zimbabwe were disciplined for most of the day, but Pakistan batsmen capitalised on their exhaustion towards the latter half of the day © AFP
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There is a point in a dream when, no matter how real the events unfolding in the deepest moments of sleep seem, you realise they are not. For Zimbabwe, that happened at the drinks break in the third session. Pakistan were 276 runs ahead, Younis Khan had planted roots into the pitch, Rahat Ali had just hit his first boundary, a disdainful slap off Tendai Chatara's bowling, and the match was turning.

For 11 and half sessions before that interval, Zimbabwe had done most things right. They justified their captain's decision to bowl first in conditions which could assist the quicks, they batted with Test-match temperament, they made good their lead by bowling well upfront again and they had a decent chance of limiting Pakistan to a gettable total through a miserly effort in the second innings. Until then.

It was after that break in play that tired legs and similarly exhausted minds overwhelmed the discipline they showed for most of the day. Fuller lengths played into the hands of the last pair who were obviously looking to accelerate in the latter stages of the innings and Zimbabwe's gameplan unraveled.

After conceding at just 2.6 an over for the 71 overs they bowled in the innings up to that point, Zimbabwe leaked at 6.7 runs an over for the final 8.3 overs. Younis Khan went in search of a double hundred and found it and Rahat Ali proved as good at holding up an end as he did at slogging and looking for singles.

During those overs, the complexion of Zimbabwe's Test changed completely. They went from being in the game to just playing in a game, from being in a position to compete on the final day, to being in a position from which surviving would be the only aim and from being able to think about winning to having to focus only on a draw.

Realistically, to expect anything more from Zimbabwe would be fanciful. They have scored over 300 in a fourth innings before but the circumstances were completely different. They achieved the score on a dead Bulawayo track two years ago against New Zealand. They also lost the match.

The same happened back in 2002 when they managed 310 against Pakistan here in Harare, chasing an improbable 430. Zimbabwean cricket looked completely different then, so any comparisons are unnecessary, although Hamilton Masakadza is a survivor from that very game. But they have never chased in excess of 300 to win and are not contemplating it as a genuine possibility now.

"We must be realistic. To get a win would be amazing but we will definitely go into tomorrow playing for the draw," Grant Flower, Zimbabwe's batting coach said. "It will be a big challenge for us, against a good attack which includes Saeed Ajmal, especially as it's keeping a bit low and starting to turn a bit more."

Zimbabwe recognise it would be far better to share honours with Pakistan than to lose. But that realisation - that they could have put themselves in a position to beat Pakistan - will sting bitterly when the final analysis of this game is done.

For the contest to be decided in 51 balls seems unfair but it is an illustration of how small the margins in Test cricket are. Considering that a maximum of 2,700 deliveries can be bowled in any Test, 51 balls is a mere 1.8%. Numerically, that is how fine the room for error was in this Test. That percentage can translate to something like a dropped catch, of which Zimbabwe had two. Letting Younis Khan off the hook on 83 and 117 proved to be expensive mistakes. Had either Tino Mawoyo or Malcolm Waller held on, Zimbabwe could have been looking at a much smaller target.

"Test cricket is cruel and we saw that. We dropped Younis twice and he made us pay," Flower said. That's what class batsmen do."

It can also manifest itself in the small errors of judgment bowlers make as a batsmen of Younis' quality wears them down. A touch too full or too short can happen to anyone but the longer one is out there, the more chance there is of it occurring, especially with an attack that essentially had four specialist bowlers and Hamilton Masakadza to operate as the fifth.

Zimbabwe's cricketers last played a Test over five months ago and this is only their fifth Test in two years. They are not used to regular rigours of the longest format and eventually, that started to show.

"In the last hour or so that we were out there fatigue set in, both physical and mental and we couldn't take back control," Flower said. "Those passages of play where the ability to drive proceedings no longer exists, is where advantages are squandered."

Whatever happens on the final day, there is no doubt Zimbabwe have improved as a Test nation. Flower regarded the performance so far as the best of 2013 especially because it has come "against one of the best sides in the world and with all the off-field problems". He admitted they will look for the draw tomorrow and hope to build on the gains made in the next match.

But what happens after that? With the Sri Lanka visit certain to be postponed and no Test cricket scheduled for 11 months until South Africa are due to visit in August 2014, the gains made now may end up being worth nothing by the next time Zimbabwe take the field in whites.

"That's what we face in Zimbabwe," Flower said. "We're used to practicing a lot because we don't play much so we have a big emphasis on fitness but we also need to be playing tough international sides in between that because otherwise you get left behind."

If that were to happen even more than it already has, Zimbabwean cricket would face a much ruder awakening than the one they had in the last 8.3 overs of the Pakistan innings today.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Posted by   on (September 7, 2013, 12:56 GMT)

congrats pct for winning it.....I'm glad to see ajmal getting back to what he deserves 'well played yk ....in the next match haffez and rehman should be rested for the left arm opener masood and Ehsan adil

Posted by MohsAli on (September 7, 2013, 12:35 GMT)

Zim played really well in all session but this is the difference between Pak and Zim as Pak didn't loss their focus on the match

Posted by James189 on (September 7, 2013, 10:40 GMT)

Sad cum dramatic yet predictable end of a cricketing saga lasting over 5 days,of which Zimbabwe players hold the driver seat for initial 9 sessions.

Posted by zarasochozarasamjho on (September 7, 2013, 7:59 GMT)

Great analysis by Firdose - yet again! As a Pakistan supporter, I must say Zimbabwe have been most impressive. It is their approach which has been amazing; as you said it "test-temperament" batting, and controlled targetted bowling. The recent Pakistan sides do not generally have it, apart from 2 or 3, depending on who are playing. Also, the sustaining of high quality performance against a 4th ranked team and with minimal test experience. For most of the game, they held the upper hand. Lucky for Pakistan that 2 dropped catches have turned the match around. After 3.5 days Zimbababwe was the more likely team to win. They will in most probability lose this game. Admiration for this Zimbabwean team will not be any less though. They must build on this.

Posted by Tom_Bowler on (September 7, 2013, 7:10 GMT)

Zimbabwe have acquitted themselves pretty well since they came back in to Test cricket and have been competitive again in this game. Such a shame that with things on the field looking OK the same old nonsense seems to be occurring off it. Just hope Grant Flower has what he needs to do his job, he's a smart, decent guy and he deserves to work without one hand tied behind his back.

Posted by Dirk_L on (September 7, 2013, 4:38 GMT)

Zimbabwe wants to play Test cricket but can't get sides to play against them. Sri Lanka has sides lined up to play against them but cancels scheduled Test series. India can at two months' notice organize unscheduled Tests against hand-picked opponents for itself. Ireland is not considered good enough to play Test cricket, but their players are good enough to star for England. SOMETHING IS WRONG HERE. Maybe there should be a challenge system. The likes of Ireland (i.e. best Associate nation) should be allowed to challenge either of the two lowest-ranked Test sides for a three-game rubber, those games to count as Tests, and a win in that rubber gains Test status for the challenger. One such challenge series allowed per year would not devalue the holy-cow quality of the endangered species known as Test cricket.

Posted by   on (September 6, 2013, 23:32 GMT)

There seems no other option but to organise tours against a sides....

Posted by Desihungama on (September 6, 2013, 20:20 GMT)

Very impressed with Zimbabwe's improvement. They have a pool of good cricketers and I am sure will do well in future with Grant Flower (Whom I admire as a cricketer) being on the sidelines. Pakistan and Zimbabwe are in a position to solve their respective issues that is PCB enabling a Zimbabwe tour to Pakistan ensuring fool proof security. It's a win win situation for everyone including Pak fans back home.

Posted by roook on (September 6, 2013, 18:12 GMT)

This is a beauty of test cricket one bad session can take from you.

Posted by Imranzia on (September 6, 2013, 17:52 GMT)

Zimbabwe deserve credit. they have done well in this test match. the bowling has been testing but there is lack of experience. with more matches and consistency with this team they could really challenge the big boys. A lot more competitive than bangladesh

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