Underprepared pitch causes concern
An underprepared pitch is the biggest concern ahead of the second Test between Zimbabwe and Pakistan starting on Tuesday in Harare. The groundsmen have just two-and-a-half days after the first Test to prepare the surface after being informed last Thursday that the fixture would be moved from Bulawayo, and both Hamilton Masakadza and Misbah-ul-Haq expect a tough time in the middle.
"It's going to get a lot worse, a lot quicker," said Masakadza, who stood in as captain in the first Test and has played most of his domestic cricket at Harare Sports Club. "It's going to be tough for the groundsman with such a short turnaround and the spinners will definitely come into play much more in the second innings."
Turn was always predicted as a factor for the second Test, which was due to be played at Bulawayo's Queens Club, a venue known for its flat, dry strip. However, Zimbabwe Cricket announced the match would be moved to Harare because Queens was "not in a condition to host a Test," but ESPNcricinfo has learned the change in venue was actually a cost-cutting measure. Cash-strapped ZC will save more than US$50,000 in travel and hotel costs by playing the entire series of two Twenty20s, three ODIs and two Tests in Harare.
The strip being readied for the second Test is the one on the extreme right, when looking at the field from the clubhouse end of the ground. It was not used this summer and staff had begun rolling it during the ODIs against Pakistan in preparation for the domestic season.
Grant Flower, the Zimbabwe batting consultant, could not recall playing any international cricket on that pitch but said he had seen it in use during the domestic twenty-over competition some time ago. While he thought the first-Test pitch "played very well," he was also concerned about what the second one would do. "We know they will have something ready for us, we just don't know what to expect."
Groundstaff at Harare Sports Club have hosted back-to-back Tests before, as recently as six months ago. Bangladesh played two Tests at the venue between April 17 and 29. The first match went only four days which left four days of preparation for the second Test and it seemed enough. Spin was not a huge factor in the second match and 1,221 runs were scored with a highest total of 391 in the first innings.
Masakadza does not think run-scoring will be as easy this time, especially with the quality of the Pakistan spinners. Saeed Ajmal took 11 wickets in the first Test and Abdur Rehman claimed four. Prosper Utseya's five took the total number of spinners' scalps to 20 out of the 39 wickets that fell.
Run-scoring was below three an over on average throughout the Test, partly as a result of disciplined bowling and conservative tactics but also because the surface slowed. With patient batting a skill that still needs to be honed by the younger players on both sides, Misbah said he is worried about the temperament his team will need to show if they are to whitewash their hosts. "The pitch (is a) really big concern for us," Misbah said. "It's going to be tricky but we need to be prepared - especially mentally prepared - and we need to be professional."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent