Malik ton, Riaz aggression give Pakistan big win
Return of international cricket to Pakistan might have been fraught with threat of violence, but the first ODI in the country in six years brought about the most non-violent 375 you could imagine, setting up a 41-run win
Pakistan 375 for 3 (Malik 112, Sohail 89*, Hafeez 86, Azhar 79) beat Zimbabwe 334 for 5 (Chigumbura 117, Masakadza 73, Riaz 3-47) by 41 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
The return of international cricket to Pakistan might have been fraught with threats of violence, but the first ODI in the country in six years brought about the most non-violent 375 you could imagine, setting up a 41-run win. In an incredibly cool and calculated innings, hardly a shot was hit in anger as Azhar Ali, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik and Haris Sohail chipped and chopped an innocuous attack to the highest total in Pakistan. However, the thinness of Pakistan's attack, the flatness of the pitch and the fact that Zimbabwe's batting is much stronger than their bowling, became apparent in the chase with only Wahab Riaz looking like taking a wicket. Elton Chigumbura scored a chancy century, Hamilton Masakadza a fifty, but the chase only kicked into life towards the end, by which time the asking rate had reached 15 an over, a task too tall with four Wahab overs to contend with. Considering Mohammad Sami and Anwar Ali's struggle with the ball, Pakistan will be thankful their batsmen posted the total they did. This was the first time all of their top four scored fifty or more, and the first Pakistan innings to feature two 150-run stands. Malik's 112 off 76 was his fastest century. Pakistan hit 35 fours and 10 sixes in all, but that masked the lack of frenetic hitting and powerful strokes you associate such big scores with.
Azhar and Hafeez began sedately before opening up in a 170-run stand, Pakistan's third-highest opening partnership at home. The duo missed out on what looked like certain centuries, falling within eight balls of each other, but Malik and Sohail took over from where they left, and added some more intent as you would expect after a strong opening. Playing for the first time in two years, Malik posted his first score of more than 43 in five years, at once reminding you why he had been dropped and why quite a few have been disappointed with an unfulfilled career.
Azhar and Hafeez were Pakistan's fourth opening combination in their last five ODIs, and the tentativeness showed in their start - eight runs in five overs on a pitch that never misbehaved. In the sixth over though, Azhar, the captain playing his first international at home, took the first risk, playing across the line of a ball outside off, placing it wide of mid-on for three. That shot was the release as he raced away to 21 off 24 with Hafeez labouring to five off the same number of deliveries.
Zimbabwe's attack didn't have the necessary threat to hold the openers back. Hafeez got going with pick-up shots for four and six off Tinashe Panyangara in the ninth over. Azhar reached his fifty first, and Hafeez was on his heels and when he hit the remodelled Prosper Utseya - now bowling little legrollers - for successive fours in the 22nd over, Pakistan's run rate had crossed six an over never to come back down again. Those two shots summed up the touch play this partnership relied on: first a mere push between mid-off and extra cover, and then waiting for the expected flatter delivery and back-cutting it between point and short third man.
Utseya managed to get both the openers out, but looking at how Malik and Sohail went he must be wishing he hadn't. It was Malik in this partnership that made a slow start, but from the moment he skipped out and lofted Sikandar Raza for a straight six in the 33rd over, he galloped along. With Malik looking in rare touch, Sohail could take it easy and settle in. As with Hafeez and Azhar, it was more about clever placement and missing the infielders rather than manic hitting for Malik.
Forty-one came off the Powerplay, and at 263 for 2 in 40 overs Pakistan were set to break the Lahore record of 357, what with 10 an over in the last 10 almost the norm in modern ODI cricket. Except Pakistan are one of the teams that usually buck the trend. Not here. In Malik and Sohail they had right amount of placement and power, in Zimbabwe they had a flat attack, and the two carried the party on. Clean hits cleared the fence, mis-hits fell to ground, Zimbabwe missed quite a few yorkers, the fielding was poor, and 112 came off the last 10. In the 49th over Malik raised the first international century in Pakistan in six years. Sohail, who relied on some power hitting over the leg side in his 89 off 66, ran out of time, but time was a bigger problem for Zimbabwe who were about 40 minutes behind schedule in finishing their 50 overs.
They didn't show much more urgency in the chase, looking for the most part content with batting out the 50 overs of their own. Chigumbura and Masakadza added 124 for the third wicket, but they did so in 20 overs, which meant the asking rate had reached 14.5 for the last 17. Chigumbura, who survived a plumb lbw shout and benefited from two dropped catches, brought brief interest to the chase. He raced away to a maiden ODI century, in the process hitting Sami for a hat-trick of fours and then for 22 in another over. Wahab, though, proved too good for him, troubling him with bouncers before cleaning him up with a quick yorker, and ending the game in the process. Pakistan, though, will be worried at how ineffective their second string of bowlers were.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo