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Alan Butcher, the Zimbabwe coach, has said the crucial phase in his side's loss to Pakistan in the first ODI in Bulawayo was the one between the 10th and 20th overs of the chase, during which Zimbabwe scored only 30 runs. Zimbabwe were chasing 248 and got off to a solid start; but though they had lost only two wickets by the end of 20 overs, the asking-rate had already risen to 5.90 an over and kept climbing.
"The turning point was the period between 10 and 20 overs of our chase, when we only scored 30 runs," Butcher said. "We probably gave Mohammad Hafeez too much respect. One more run an over in that period and we'd have won before the last over." Hafeez conceded just 38 runs in his 10 overs, bowled in one spell.
With the asking-rate climbing, Tatenda Taibu and Brendan Taylor tried to score at a quicker pace, but Zimbabwe waited till the 43rd over, by which time Taibu had been dismissed, to take the batting Powerplay. They took 38 runs off it and Butcher said he was happy with their timing of it. "When Taylor and Taibu were batting together there were still a lot of overs to go. While they were there we felt we were well in touch. We were happy with when we took the Powerplay."
Though Zimbabwe fell five runs short in the chase, Butcher said there had been an improvement in their batting. "If you look back six months at the World Cup, we were struggling to get past 180 against Full Member nations [their highest score against a Full Member was 188 versus Sri Lanka]. To get 240 is progress and we're learning how to do it against the big teams
"We need to tweak a couple of things but we had two good innings today - a 70 [from Vusi Sibanda] and an 80 [from Taylor]. Vusi was a bit unlucky with the way he got out. If he had carried on it would have made a difference. He played a responsible knock."
Butcher said there were plenty of positives to take out of the game. "We did well to restrict them to less than 250 because at one stage, when Misbah-ul-haq and Younis [Khan] were in, it looked like 270 was going to be the target. When you get that close, you're always disappointed to lose, but we can definitely take positives as there were some high-quality performances from our players."
Zimbabwe went in to the game with a different combination from the one that had beaten Bangladesh 3-2 in the ODI series in August, playing just one specialist seamer to accommodate three spinners and a longer batting line-up. Butcher said the decision was made based on the reputation the Bulawayo pitch has as a spinning surface. "I think the decision was justified when you look at the score we restricted them to. The wicket played better than we thought it would; it did not spin as much as we expected and had a little more pace. Having a longer batting line-up is something we've been talking about for a while."
Brian Vitori, who started his ODI career by taking two five-wicket hauls in his first two games, against Bangladesh, was left out of the XI and Butcher said it was a tactical decision. He did, however, suggest Vitori could play a role when the action shifts to Harare for the second and third ODIs, and the two Twenty20s.
"Different conditions in Harare may make us think of a different attack. Vitori's omission today was tactical but I'm sure he will play a role in Harare. We hope he plays a similar role to the one he played against Bangladesh, taking wickets up front. Pakistan have a more solid batting line-up, so it is hard to expect him to have the same impact. Against better opposition he may have to work harder."