Zimbabwe v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Harare September 10, 2013

Why Zimbabwe need more Tests

Zimbabwe showed good application in the first two sessions and with more Test experience they could avoid being suckered into traps set by the Pakistan bowlers after tea

Until 19 minutes after tea, Zimbabwe were making a strong case for why they deserve to play more Test cricket in what could be their last long-format fixture until July next year. They were 172 for 3, had seen off an hour of high quality seam bowling on a lively surface in the morning session. Two of their batsmen, one of whom was still at the crease, had made half-centuries and their line-up also featured one partnership in excess of 100 runs.

Then, Malcolm Waller fell into a trap that had obviously been set for him. Having watched Waller's ease against the spin of Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, Misbah-ul-Haq brought back Junaid Khan to try and unsettle him. He delivered four short balls in the first over Waller faced but started the second by reverting to a good length. With the fourth ball, he held it just back of a length and Waller was trapped.

Perhaps expecting a slightly fuller length, Waller did not move his feet at all as he fished and found only an outside edge. That started a familiar middle-order wobble, which Zimbabwe had managed to avoid in the last Test but which they have become known for. They lost 4 for 31 to turn the innings from respectable to needing rescuing.

Zimbabwe's position did little to reflect their hard graft earlier, which once again demonstrated their top-order has the temperament for Test cricket. For the first 10 overs, they had no choice but to try and survive.

Junaid moved the ball both ways in a spell that underlined his worth to the Pakistan attack while Rahat Ali backed him up fairly well. Through a mixture of either moving the ball away from the batsmen at the last instant or swerving it back into them, Junaid ensured Zimbabwe had to play at all but four of the first 30 balls he bowled. Rahat was slightly less menacing and made them go for 21 of the 30 balls he delivered. Between them, they also beat the outside edge eight times in 10 overs.

Tino Mawoyo went early and Vusi Sibanda and Hamilton Masakadza came close to following. Neither were sure what Junaid was going to present them with next and hasty withdrawals of the bat could easily have taken the edge. Run-scoring was almost impossible and if bat managed to find ball, it was only with the aim of defence.

A far lesser side than Zimbabwe could have found themselves four or five down in the face of hostile, incisive bowling by Pakistan's pace attack. That they did not, would only have helped the confidence of the batting pair, especially when Younis Khan came on and offered some relief.

For Sibanda, the self-assurance overflowed too quickly. He resorted to his favourite stroke, the pull, and ended up playing on. Questions will rightly be asked about his ability to pace an innings and whether he becomes too aggressive too quickly, especially since he has not scored a Test fifty in almost two years.

He need look no further than his captain, Brendan Taylor, for an example of how to hang back until absolutely sure. Taylor, who knew he was struggling for form in the lead-up to this match, played just five scoring shots in the first 60 balls he faced. His boundary came off an edge to the third man boundary and the three singles he scored in that time were the result of slightly better timed pushes than the ones he was employing in defence the rest of the time.

Taylor did not take risks because he was battling through the initial stages of his innings. When Pakistan overpitched, he mistimed his drives. When he got a full toss, he did not hit it with any power and eventually he resorted to trying one of his favourite one-day strikes, the ramp over the wicket-keeper's head but when he could not even get hold of that, he knuckled down and waited for something to go his way.

Only when the spinners started giving it a bit more flight, did Taylor start to come into his own. With nothing more than sheer determination, Taylor found his rhythm and he had the luxury of time because Masakadza was playing a fairly fluent knock, and was especially comfortable against the spinners, on the other end.

Masakadza was well-set, enough to suggest hopes for a Test century, but when he was dismissed, it was up to Taylor to bat through the day. He enjoyed a sprightly stand with Waller and had that grown, Zimbabwe's promise may have been fulfilled.

Zimbabwe endured a period of play that even their most loyal supporters are calling more of the same. Waller threw it away, not realising he was being set up by Junaid, Richmond Mutumbami was careless in the channel outside off stump and tried to play a defensive stroke too late and Elton Chigumbura was bowled by a Rehman delivery that kept low - a sign of what this surface will deliver as the match progresses.

Greater awareness may have saved all three of them and the lack of such foresight is the clearest indication that Zimbabwe need to play more Test cricket. Without facing bowlers for extended periods of time, they will not know when plans are being worked out against them and how to guard against that.

Building and timing an innings is learnt only through practice and only batsmen who are able to make those skills a habit succeed at Test level. This innings could be Zimbabwe's penultimate chance to do that.

They will bat again in this Test but then face at least nine months with no Test cricket, because of the postponed Sri Lanka series and a flawed Future Tours Programme. Zimbabwe's performance in this series should stand as a reason why they should not be left out in the cold and despite financial and fixture concerns worldwide, something should be done to ensure these players benefit from more time in the middle.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments