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Saqlain destroys Zimbabwe on day 1 in Bulawayo

The speed of Shoaib Akhtar, on a lifeless pitch, and the guile of Saqlain Mushtaq destroyed Zimbabwe's batting on the first day of the Second Test match at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo. Zimbabwe wilted under the pressure and subsided with increasing speed for a total of only 178. In 14 overs before the close, Pakistan scored 29 runs without loss.

It was a hot, humid day and the pitch appeared very dry, but former Zimbabwe captain Dave Houghton thought, "It probably looks worse than it will play." He thought it would be slow and take spin on the first day, perhaps crumbling later in the match, but basically quite good for batting, with nothing in it for the seamers.

Zimbabwe again won the toss and, as expected, decided to bat first. In a change to their original plans, Zimbabwe decided to send debutant Mark Vermeulen in with Dion Ebrahim to open, dropping Hamilton Masakadza in the order as a result of the shortage of quality practice he has had recently at the University of the Free State.

Vermeulen was off the mark first ball, pushing Shoaib through the covers for two. He failed to survive the over, though, adjudged lbw by umpire Orchard to a ball that moved back and would probably have hit leg stump. Ebrahim (5) soon followed, playing inside a ball from Waqar that cut back and also departing lbw. Zimbabwe were 8 for two in the fifth over, a superb start for Pakistan on a slow pitch where they maximized what little help they could extract from the conditions.

Things would have worsened had there been a direct hit to remove Grant Flower as he got off the mark. It took 45 minutes before the first boundary came in the eighth over, an off-drive by Alistair Campbell off Shoaib.

Despite the lifeless pitch, Pakistan's pacemen continued the same policy that they had used to good effect in Harare: good line and length, backed by attacking fields. That may have been Zimbabwe's policy as well, but it wasn't their practice.

The war of attrition continued, with the batsmen restricted to the occasional single off bowling that gave away nothing and the bowlers maintaining a very poor over rate. Waqar rested with figures of 8-4-8-1. Gradually, as the shine left the ball, Campbell began to play a few handsome drives, but his lack of footwork made him vulnerable if there was any movement. The fifty came up on the stroke of lunch, in the 25th over.

Grant Flower had two strokes of luck after lunch, as firstly a top-edged slash just cleared second slip, and soon afterwards a difficult chance at short leg off Saqlain went down. But it was Campbell who went, for 46, indecisive when playing Saqlain and dabbing the ball in and out of the keeper's gloves; Kamran Akmal dived to catch the rebound. Zimbabwe were 94 for three.

Shoaib worked up a great pace and almost had Grant lbw with a yorker that thudded into his boot at 160 km/h. But the batsman survived, and reached his fifty with a classic four off the front foot through extra cover. However, he was to depart on 54, sweeping at Saqlain and being given out by umpire Orchard with his front foot well down the pitch; a controversial decision which may well have been correct.

Without addition Hamilton Masakadza misread a ball from Saqlain that went the other way and, prodding outside the off stump, was caught at the wicket. At 119 for five, Zimbabwe were in serious trouble, but Andy Flower was still there. Saqlain took all three wickets during the afternoon session and Pakistan, like Zimbabwe, were perhaps already regretting their decision to play only one specialist spinner.

Tatenda Taibu carried on from where he left off in Harare, beginning confidently. After tea, though, Shoaib bowled a very accurate, hostile spell, one of the best seen on this ground, hitting both batsmen painfully on the body. It was Saqlain again who broke the stand, though, having Taibu (15) caught at the wicket down the leg side as he tried to turn a ball to leg. Andy Blignaut was Saqlain's next victim, superbly caught by Taufeeq Umar at short leg without scoring - 159 for seven.

Things did not last long after that as Andy Flower (30), once again forced to bat with the tail, unusually fell to a soft dismissal, steering Shoaib to gully one ball after taking another blow on the body. Saqlain bowled Raymond Price (1) all ends up through the gate and, after a brief fight from the last pair, Saqlain bowled Henry Olonga (8) shouldering arms to a sharp spinner, leaving Mluleki Nkala 10 not out.

Zimbabwe were all out for 178 on a fine batting pitch. It was Pakistan at their best, but Zimbabwe failed to handle the relentless pressure. Waqar set it up with a fine opening spell, Saqlain bowled with mystery to return figures of seven for 66 off 25.5 overs, while Shoaib's onslaught after tea finished them off - he had more influence than his figures of two for 39 suggest. Umpire Venkat, after his errors in Harare, appeared to have an excellent day, getting several tricky decisions right.

Zimbabwe fought back with some determination with the ball, and it took 16 balls for Pakistan to score their first run, when Taufeeq Umar laced a widish ball from Andy Blignaut through the covers for four. The bowling was more accurate than in Harare, though not dangerous to the survival of the patient batsman, and Pakistan were playing for the close. Taufeeq finished with 16 and Saleem 13.