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Match Analysis

Pakistan revel in return home

Starved of international cricket at home, Pakistan's players enjoyed the chance to express themselves in their own conditions.

Umar Farooq
Umar Farooq
Ideally, the home advantage is what a player needs to kick-start his career. For the past few years, the Pakistani players have been deprived of that luxury. At least three-dozen players have debuted for Pakistan since March 2009 and most had never played an international at home. It seemed that Pakistan's every cricketing problem lay in the absence of international cricket in Pakistan.
No major team at any level had toured Pakistan since the attack on the Sri Lanka squad in 2009. With no games at home, the quality in Pakistan's batting declined drastically and batting problems kept resurfacing in many ugly collapses. Without resorting to the internet, it is hard to recall the last time Pakistan's openers consolidated in chasing a hefty total.
Opener Mukhtar Ahmed had not so much as played a domestic game at Gaddafi Stadium before this match. He never played in Lahore. Pakistan's historic first international fixture since 2009 was his first ever game at one of the most prestigious venues in the country, three hours away from his home town, Sialkot.
Last month, Mukhtar made his T20 international debut in Bangladesh and spent 60 minutes over 37 off 30 balls. Here, his 83 off 45 balls marked the revival of international cricket in a perfect fashion. His fearless performance reflected how the home advantage can spur the confidence in a player. In recent years, few new Pakistan openers have sustained the pressure of international cricket, the selectors picking and dropping the raw talent amid the team's transition.
For the Pakistanis, playing at home was more of a fantasy over the past few years as they were forced to play away, mostly in the UAE. The pitches and conditions might have been the same but the sense of home comfort has been missing throughout, and the players have been starved of expressing their talents in the true spirit.
Ahmed Shehzad, who debuted in 2009, had played all of his previous 102 international matches outside Pakistan. He has been struggling with the bat for a while, but returned to form with 55 off 39 balls in his first ever game at home. Shehzad and Mukhtar shared an entertaining 142-run stand in front of a full house at Gaddafi Stadium to create an electrifying atmosphere for nearly 27,000 spectators.
The excitement and enthusiasm among the players was evident, with the home series celebrated like carnival in the town. "No doubt that the home crowd and home ground spark different emotions in you," Pakistan coach Waqar Younis said after the match. "The way we were welcomed on our way to Gaddafi Stadium, it's hard to control the emotions and we did speak in the morning about that how to control it. But the way both Ahmed and Mukhtar played it was outstanding and won the match for us."
After a strong start, Pakistan laid a solid foundation for an emphatic victory but tripped up for a while to lose five wickets for 27 runs to contrive a nail-biting finish. Pakistan found themselves needing 11 off 12 balls and the experienced Shoaib Malik toiled a lot for his 7 off 14 balls, but captain Shahid Afridi struck a straight boundary to complete the win with three balls to spare.
"I don't think it was a collapse but in T20 you're bound to lose quick wickets sometime," Waqar said. "Obviously we shouldn't have lost the last two wickets but there was no worry at all. I know when you win all the lapses are covered over, but there were missed opportunity and I will ensure those will be dealt honestly."
Malik, who was a surprise inclusion in the team, failed to carry on his momentum from domestic cricket. Waqar, however, defended the former captain and said: "He just made his comeback and we have to ensure that he will be given a full opportunity. I think the role he was given, he played it well but yes we clearly saw that he lost his nerves but I am sure in coming days he will be fine."
A much-awaited series on home soil for the coach is a big achievement for the country after years of isolation. "It's always good to play in front of the home crowd and winning the game is like icing on the cake," he said. "Playing on home soil in front of our own people gives you different feelings."
Zimbabwe captain Elton Chigumbura, who had also visited Pakistan in 2008, hit eight boundaries and a six during a career-best 54 off 35 balls to lead Zimbabwe to an imposing 172. Pakistan's openers raced towards the target with a brisk 100 runs in just 56 balls that set the tone of the game. The visitors came back hard in the death overs but could not capitalise to secure the game.
"I thought it was a good target but unfortunately in the first six we didn't bowl well and gave away too many runs and that's why we lost the game," Chigumbura said. "In Twenty20, big partnerships bring you into the game. They put on a hundred-run partnership in 10 overs to put us under pressure and that made a big difference helping them to win this game."

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson