November 23, 2002

Pakistan win first match of the series by 7 runs

It looked like one of the most one-sided of one-day matches at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo when Pakistan ran up 302 for four and then removed four Zimbabwe batsmen for just 32 runs. But the Zimbabwe later batsmen resisted strongly and enabled the side to go down with honour, remarkably beaten by only six runs. It could cynically be described as a typical Zimbabwe effort: a superb fightback once the match was already lost. In the event it captured the imagination of the crowd to the end, though Pakistan always had just enough in hand.

On a hot day in Bulawayo, Pakistan won the toss and decided to bat on a flat pitch that promised plenty of runs for the batsmen.

This match was designated as a warm-up for the World Cup, with all the elaborate security arrangements now universally required by the ICC in operation. Most Zimbabweans consider them totally ludicrous and unnecessary; Zimbabwe is still one of the safest places in the world to watch cricket and it is indeed an irony that the country should be considered by many an unsuitable World Cup venue, supposedly for security reasons.

Such is Pakistan's bowling strength that they were able to leave out both Saqlain Mushtaq and Mohammad Sami, relying instead on the all-rounders Azhar Mahmood and Shahid Afridi. To match this, Zimbabwe lacked the services of Heath Streak, Douglas Hondo and Travis Friend, all injured. They actually chose to play three debutants in batsman Stuart Matsikenyeri, who opened with Alistair Campbell, and all-rounders Barney Rogers, a batsman who can bowl off-spin, and Richie Sims, an off-spinner who can bat and recently scored a Logan Cup double-century.

Zimbabwe struck an early blow, as Taufeeq Umar, after taking a single from Andy Blignaut's first over, faced Sean Ervine, opening the bowling in a one-day international for the first time. Taufeeq tried to turn the first ball to leg and was found plumb lbw.

Stuart Matsikenyeri almost made his mark on international cricket within minutes of stepping on to the field, a direct hit almost running out Yousuf Youhana as the batsmen stole a leg-bye. After that the batsmen settled down and Ervine was probably kept on too long, conceding 41 runs in his six overs. Youhana was in masterly form, reaching his fifty off 52 balls, while Saleem Elahi followed with his off 65 balls.

Richie Sims bowled quite an impressive first spell of off-spin in international cricket, but made his mark first by picking up a mistimed slash at backward point off Grant Flower to dismiss Saleem for 53. Pakistan were 127 for two.

When Inzamam-ul-Haq came in the scoring rate hardly slowed, and Zimbabwe called on eight bowlers to try to halt the momentum. Yousuf batted relentlessly onward, reaching his century off 110 balls and rarely seeming hurried, apart from when he chose to assert his authority over Sims with two big sixes. He was immediately dropped at midwicket off a very hard chance to Grant Flower.

For the most part the batsmen were content to work the ball around the field, scoring ones and twos almost at will. Inzamam's fifty came off 55 balls, as Zimbabwe were unable to provide any threat, although as often Grant Flower was the most economical. Inzamam fell for 55, hitting the expensive Olonga straight down the throat of Blignaut at long-on; Pakistan were 236 for three after another century partnership.

Shahid Afridi scored only 4 before holing out to long leg off Grant Flower in the latter's last over; he conceded only 33 runs off his ten overs. Younis Khan (33 not out off 18 balls) continued the onslaught, and Pakistan finished with 302 for four wickets. Yousuf Youhana, in from the second over, took out his bat for 141 off 147 balls, with three sixes and 13 fours, his best one-day effort and a match-winning innings.

Wasim Akram, short of match practice, began with two leg-side wides, and then bowled three more, together with a no-ball, before completing his 12-ball over. However in his second over he picked up the wicket of debutant Stuart Matsikenyeri (1), who was perhaps unluckily adjudged to have edged a cut to the keeper. Andy Flower walked in to delighted chants of "Andy, Andy, Andy" from the noisily enthusiastic stands of black spectators who now form the majority in Bulawayo matches.

Alistair Campbell never looked comfortable, and had only 4 to his credit when he was bowled neck and crop by a ball from Waqar Younis that went right through him. As if this was not enough, Grant Flower ran himself out without scoring off a no-ball, and Zimbabwe were helping to dig their own grave at 17 for three in the fifth over.

It nearly grew worse, but Barney Rogers deserved his beginner's luck as he escaped with a miscued chip shot that somehow cleared mid-on. Rogers (13 off 16 balls) continued to look aggressive, but a fine yorker from Waqar uprooted his off stump one ball after he survived a close lbw appeal.

Craig Evans, plying his first international match for three years, came in to join Andy Flower with Zimbabwe 32 for four. Struggling against the two ageing but still potent Ws, he curbed his natural instincts, not scoring his second run until his 20th ball. Andy Flower found no alternative but to accumulate, which he did steadily, as any attempt on the target now would be futile.

Evans tried a few fiddly and unsuccessful little sweeps when the spinners came on before finally obeying his instincts and hitting Taufeeq straight for six, followed by a four to square leg. Flower reached his fifty off 74 balls, immediately followed by the hundred partnership, and then Evans's fifty, off 66 balls. Sadly a fine partnership came to an inglorious end in a mix-up as Flower changed his mind over a single and Evans was run out for 68 thanks to quick work by keeper Kamran Akmal. Zimbabwe were 167 for five after a stand of 135, in the 33rd over, but Evans had certainly justified his recall.

Wasim returned and immediately dismissed Andy Flower (77), skying a catch into the covers off a leading edge as he aimed a leg hit; 185 for six. Blignaut and Tatenda Taibu continued the fight, but there was a further worry for Zimbabwe as Blignaut's leg gave him increasing problems and he required Grant Flower as a runner. His fifty came off 36 balls, but soon afterwards he skyed a catch to depart for 55. Another run-out removed Sean Ervine, like Grant Flower out without facing a ball, a rare occurrence twice in the same innings.

The required run rate was slowly increasing, until 31 were needed off the final two overs. Taibu emulated Doug Marillier, strangely omitted from the one-day squad by scooping Waqar to fine leg for four, but was then bowled for 35. Olonga mowed Waqar in unlikely fashion for two fours, leaving 19 required off the last over, bowled by Wasim, with the last pair together. But Wasim is just too good a bowler, and Zimbabwe finished just six runs short with one wicket in hand - Sims had 7 and Olonga 13.

Ironically, had there been penalties for the side bowling second, Zimbabwe would surely have been declared winners, as the Pakistani over rate was so abysmal that they overran their time allocation by 35 minutes.