Zimbabwe's last chance to convert promise
Match factsSeptember 10-14, 2013
Start time 1000 local (0800 GMT)
In March this year, Zimbabwe arrived in the West Indies absolutely undercooked. Their only internationals in the previous 12 months: two Twenty20s in Hambantota. The two Tests in Barbados and Dominica lasted five days in all. They barely avoided losing by an innings in the first, but succumbed to the ignominy in the second.
Six months later, in what has been a hectic year compared to the famine of 2012, they took a sizeable first-innings lead against Pakistan, and had them effectively 91 for 5 in the second. Then Younis Khan decided to restore order, and Zimbabwe went through one of their capitulations in the fourth innings. The first Test in Harare will become another addition to the long list of heavy Zimbabwe defeats, completely obfuscating their dominance over the initial three days. The scorecard of the Barbados Test says West Indies won by nine wickets but a closer look reveals Zimbabwe had a chance of taking the lead then too, having reduced the hosts to 151 for 6 in response to 211.
With utmost justification, Zimbabwe keep clamouring for more cricket. Amid a crippling monetary crisis, they have managed to squeeze in six Tests, 14 ODIs and six T20s this year. The numbers would have been higher had the shortage of funds not caused the postponement of Sri Lanka's visit. While there was the embarrassment of a 0-5 defeat against a second-string India side, there was also the ODI win over Pakistan, followed by the unexpectedly competitive performance in the first Test.
It is a hopeless situation to be in. Very few tours to high-ranked nations because they do not see much value in playing you. Few incoming trips because your board does not have the money to arrange more. How do you improve? A glance at the FTP provides little hope in the near future. The second Test against Pakistan will be Zimbabwe's last international match before the World Twenty20 in March. Can they make a final, bigger statement of promise?
It will not be easy. Pakistan were playing their first Test in more than six months last week. Misbah-ul-Haq warned after the game that his team could not afford to start slowly repeatedly. Complacency, if there was any among the new arrivals for the Tests, will not be there this time.
Form guidePakistan WLLLD (last five matches, most recent first)
Watch out for
Zimbabwe lost 15 wickets to Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman in the first Test. Their batsmen are not accustomed to facing high-quality spinners, and there is no shame in failing to tackle Ajmal when better sides have struggled to. But before this series, Zimbabwe were confounded by Amit Mishra. In West Indies, they lost 29 of 40 wickets to Shane Shillingford and Marlon Samuels.
It is only going to get tougher. The Harare square has taken such a battering this season there are concerns over how the pitch will behave, with Hamilton Masakadza expecting a lot more help for spin. Although it has been kept covered to try and retain whatever moisture there is, less than three days is hardly any time to prepare a Test surface, let alone on a ground which has seen so much cricket in recent months. Junaid Khan and Co can be counted on, but again, the real test for the Zimbabwe batsmen will be the Pakistan spinners.
Mohammad Hafeez averages 8.00 with the bat in Tests, all outside Asia, this year. He had two productive years after almost a decade of disappointment but questions are now being asked whether he fits in as opener in a format where he is not needed too much as a bowler. He remains important in limited-overs but he'll be 33 in October, and even if persisted with for a while, is certainly not a long-term option. Which also means he will have to come good quickly, and often.
Team newsThe one change Pakistan could make is to bring in the quicker Wahab Riaz in place of Rahat Ali, who took 1 for 105 in the first Test. Mohammad Hafeez ran gingerly between the wickets last week, after straining his hamstring in the third ODI. However, Misbah has claimed that Pakistan's T20 captain is fit.
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/Rahat Ali, 9 Saeed Ajmal, 10 Junaid Khan, 11 Abdur Rehman
Brendan Taylor will return to lead Zimbabwe after missing the first Test to be with his fiancee and newborn son but has said he will not keep wicket. It is not often that Zimbabwe have to fret over who to leave out. Sikandar Raza was handed a Test debut after Taylor decided to sit out last week, and looks the most likely candidate to be omitted, although that is no justice for a man who made 60 and 24.
Zimbabwe will decide in the morning whether to play a second spinner. If they do, it will mean a Test debut for young legspinner Natsai M'shangwe but they will have a hard time deciding which fast bowler to leave out, as all performed manfully in the first Test. In fact, they carried such a heavy workload - 161.1 overs - that Hamilton Masakadza joked they needed "bed rest and maybe a drip". Brian Vitori could be called upon if one of them fails to recover.
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, 9,10 & 11 Three out of Tinashe Panyangara/Shingi Masakadza/Tendai Chatara/Natsai M'shangwe/Brian Vitori
Stats and trivia
- Younis Khan is 48 short of becoming the fourth Pakistan batsman to reach 7000 Test runs, after Javed Miandad, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf
- This will be the 12th international game this year at Harare Sports Club, easily the most matches at a ground
"We can learn from their mental awareness and the way they switched on and off at different times in the game. We were on top of them for three-and-half days but their two best performers made it tough for us. If we can just switch on at the right times, we could do better."
Brendan Taylor on what Zimbabwe can pick up from Pakistan
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo