Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent
Having lost their last seven international matches, results are not as important for Zimbabwe as incremental improvements, and they hope to stack up a few more in the upcoming ODIs against Pakistan. Brendan Taylor's men were blanked 5-0 by India and defeated in both Twenty20s against Pakistan but believe they are making some progress under new coach, Andy Waller.
"The senior players were disappointed after the India series. We know we have to score some runs and if we don't, it will make it difficult for the guys lower down," Hamilton Masakadza told ESPNcricinfo. "We wanted to step up against Pakistan and we felt that the batsmen applied themselves a little bit better."
The inability to post competitive totals has been Zimbabwe's biggest problem of late but they are slowly trying to rectify that. Against India, they did not reach a score of 250 even once in the series and were bowled out for under 200 three times. Although Zimbabwe had five half-centurions - Vusi Sibanda, Elton Chigumbura, Prosper Utseya, Sikandar Raza and Sean Williams - none of their batsmen managed triple-figures.
The top-order, in particular, was severely lacking. Zimbabwe's first-wicket stand did not cross 20 runs on three occasions. Brendan Taylor managed just 35 runs in five innings and Masakadza was frequently out after making a small start. Chigumbura, who bats in the middle-order, was their highest run-scorer.
Masakadza said a combination of tricky early-morning conditions and spin contributed to their under-performance. "The batting conditions are quite difficult in the morning at this time of year," he said, also explaining why Zimbabwe were able to bat with more assurance in the T20s, when matches only started later in the day. "But if we can get through the early period, then it flattens out in the afternoon."
And then there was Amit Mishra. The India legspinner took 18 wickets in the series at an average of 11.61. "We've been doing a lot of work on playing spin, especially because we found ways to get ourselves out against Mishra," Masakadza said. Saeed Ajmal has been known to cause similar problems against Zimbabwe, but it was Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez who had the batsmen in a spin this time.
"Pakistan have very good spinners but they are also have a very good seam attack, so it's not just one thing we are working on," Masakadza said. Some of the work seems to be paying off. Zimbabwe scored 160 in the second T20, although it was not enough to win. It was only the sixth time in their T20 history of 28 matches that they managed a total of 160 or more.
Some of their improvements could be attributed to conditions, but the more assured run-scoring was the result of a better start. The first-wicket stand was worth 50 or more in both T20s against Pakistan and Masakadza believes his return to the top of the order is paying off. "Vusi [Sibanda] and I have tried to set the tone upfront. We've batted together since high school and we are very comfortable together. Now that I am back opening, and not at No.3, we can work together," he said.
Chigumbura and Williams' form has also been heartening and with Taylor getting his eye back in in the first match, Zimbabwe may be able to achieve what assistant coach Stephen Mangongo is hoping for. "Realistically we are expecting all three departments to function properly because when they don't, it is our biggest weakness," Masakadza said. "Either the batting does well and the bowling comes short or vice versa, those are the primary areas and we need to synchronise those two."
Although Zimbabwe's bowling is missing Kyle Jarvis, Tendai Chatara showed his promise in the first match. "Overall, the guys are feeling quite positive," Masakadza said. "We have something to build on now and we are looking forward to the series."
What is perhaps more important to Zimbabwe, apart from their own motivation, is the respect they are commanding from their opposition. Pakistan coach Dav Whatmore tweeted this after the T20 series: "Congrats on winning the series boys, as favourites we got the expected results. Well done to Zim for the way they played."
He also called the pitch at Harare Sports Club, where all three ODIs will be played, "one of the best I have ever seen." If it stays that way, Zimbabwe may fancy their chances of batting even better this week as they gear up for the real challenge of two Tests, starting next Tuesday.
Zimbabwe vs Pakistan
Pakistan tour of Zimbabwe