This shouldn’t be complicated; perhaps, it isn’t complicated.
One of these two sides brushed aside all opposition in the format not long ago, better teams than their latest opponents, so complete was their domination in T20Is. The other lost a game to Singapore just over a year ago. One of them embarked upon a heady, record-breaking, prediction-defying streak of 11 T20I series wins over a three-year period, where they won 29 off 33. In the same period, the other struggled to play enough games, and the eight they did play ended in comprehensive defeats. They have played each other 11 times, and all of them have been won by the same team – if statistics dealt in headlines, Pakistan vs Zimbabwe, in T20Is, might go up in the Foregone Conclusion category.
And yet, this series has assumed an intrigue that wasn’t readily apparent last year, or even last week. Pakistan are no longer the team that won T20I matches for fun. And while Zimbabwe may still have a long way to go before they can come into a series of this nature on anything resembling an even footing, they did just beat Pakistan in the most recent ODI, holding their nerve while Pakistan lost theirs, to eke out a Super Over win. They might even have come into this after winning the ODI series had Brendan Taylor’s heroics stretched that bit further in the first ODI.
Now, with the confidence of that rare collector’s item – a win against one of the top sides – Zimbabwe will stride into the first T20I with a spring their steps would have lacked until Tuesday’s win.
For Zimbabwe, that momentum must guide them through the series, and the belief that games can indeed be won if they play better cricket than their opponents. Zimbabwe have put together an exciting side, with stalwarts like Sean Williams and Taylor finding the form they seemed to have lost, while in Wesley Madhevere and Blessing Muzarabani, they might have sown some high-quality seeds for their future.
But as Williams said so pointedly after that third game, it isn’t just about the future, and it isn’t just about competing. Zimbabwe are here because they want to win, and after having got a taste of that rare thing, they will crave it even more.
For Pakistan. perspective is key. They have the personnel to outbat and outbowl Zimbabwe, but the execution and consistency was sorely missing in the ODI series. They should take confidence in having stopped a rut that saw them lose series against South Africa, England, Sri Lanka and Australia since that 11-series run ended. And while a home series win against Bangladesh might not have convinced many, a drawn series versus England last month should explain what Pakistan are capable of. In Shaheen Afridi and Haider Ali, Rohail Nazir and Mohammad Musa, they shouldn’t have to stay awake at night fretting about where the match-winning performances are going to come from. But, as they saw just the other day, no one will just gift victories to them.
Last five completed matches, most recent first
In the spotlight
ODIs have proved a bit hit-and-miss for Imad Wasim, but his importance to the Pakistan T20I side is not open to discussion. A regular with the new ball, it was Wasim’s miserly economy rate (6.15), and knack of applying enough pressure to force a wicket or two – he averages 22.35 per wicket – that formed the bedrock of the Pakistan side from 2016-19 that soared to the top of the world rankings in the format. Wasim won’t spin the ball much (or at all), but that nagging line and accuracy is tough to attack. If he’s on his game, Pakistan tend to get off to flying starts, and once they do, it can get difficult to rein them in.
When Zimbabwe arrived in Pakistan, they put up Elton Chigumbura for the first press conference, which made you wonder if he would be among the central figures for them. So far, that hasn’t been the case at all, with the former captain not even making the 15-man shortlist in any of the ODIs. But you wonder if they might have held him back for the T20I series, in the hope that this format can coax the best of his explosive ability back out from where it’s been hiding the past few years. Chigumbura isn’t at the top of his powers – or even close to it – anymore, but he was among the stars when his side last visited Pakistan. And with the top order failing to fire on tour, the thought of Chigumbura being handed a free role in the powerplay piques the interest from a strategic point of view. It might not work; it might not even happen, but do watch out.
Shadab Khan’s absence will be a blow to Pakistan, but the format does suit Haider Ali’s more belligerent game, and Pakistan could go with an even younger side than the one they chose for the ODIs. At the same time, however, Mohammad Hafeez is also part of the squad, and one wonders whether defeat in the third ODI may bring out chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq’s more naturally cautious side.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Fakhar Zaman, 2 Babar Azam (capt), 3 Haider Ali, 4 Mohammad Hafeez/Abdullah Shafique 5 Mohammad Rizwan/Rohail Nazir (wk), 6 Iftikhar Ahmed, 7 Khushdil Shah 8 Imad Wasim 9 Haris Rauf/Wahab Riaz, 10 Mohammad Musa/Mohammad Hasnain, 11 Shaheen Afridi
Zimbawe (possible): 1 Brian Chari/Tinashe Kamunhukamwe 2 Brendan Taylor (wk) 3 Craig Ervine 4 Chamu Chibhabha (capt) 5 Sean Williams 6 Wesley Madhevere 7 Sikandar Raza 8 Elton Chigumbura/Richmond Mutumbami 9 Carl Mumba 10 Richard Ngarava 11 Blessing Muzarabani
Pitch and conditions
It’s an afternoon start, which means dew shouldn’t be a factor. And it’s generally been dry in Rawalpindi.
Stats and trivia
Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, the venue for the series, has never hosted a T20I before.
Don’t expect an individual century in this series. Pakistan have one T20I centurion – Ahmed Shahzad – and he isn’t around. Zimbabwe’s highest individual score belongs to Solomon Mire, who scored 94 against Pakistan; he isn’t on the tour either.
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