Younis defies buoyant Zimbabwe


Pakistan 249 and 168 for 4 (Younis 76*, Misbah 52) lead Zimbabwe 327 (Waller 70, Chigumbura 69, Raza 60, Ajmal 7-95) by 90 runs


HARARE – All through this Test match, there’s been a wait for Zimbabwe’s inexperienced team to falter.

Sure they bowled well when the pitch was fresh in the first session of the game, but could they do it when the track eased up? They did. Sure they bowled well on the first day, but could their brittle batting stand up to Pakistan’s highly rated bowling? They did.

The third day was supposed to be the best day for batting in Harare; would their new-look bowling be able to do the job? They certainly started well, bagging three early wickets to consolidate on the 78-run advantage they had after the first innings, causing plenty of excitement over the possibility of Zimbabwe’s first Test win over a top eight side in 12 years.

Then they came up against the seasoned firefighters, Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, who with some old-fashioned Test batting helped Pakistan erase the deficit.

There has been a clamour in Pakistan for inducting more youngsters in the team, but it was Pakistan’s two oldest batsmen who revived the side from a precarious 23 for 3 with a 116-run partnership.

Both Younis and Misbah were content with preserving their wicket, not searching for quick runs. They were happy to leave everything they could and put away the flashy shots — the reverse-sweep was brought only to counter a 7-2 leg-side field when offspinner Prosper Utseya was operating round the wicket. The pair neutralised Zimbabwe’s limited attack for more than three hours and though they were plenty of half-chances — stumping appeals, inside-edges and bottom edges — the wicket proved elusive.

Younis ended the day unbeaten on 76, a significant innings for a man who had only one 50-plus score in his past 10 Test innings, and was phased out of the ODI side earlier this year. He has made his name as a man who scores when the team is down, a reputation he underlined with another combative innings.

Though the favourite adjective to describe Pakistan cricket is “mercurial”, there is one near certainty when they play — a Misbah half-century. In 10 of his past 13 international innings, he has passed 50, almost all of them after the top order has combusted. On none of those occasions has he gone on to a hundred, and he didn’t today either.

Zimbabwe would have been downcast if Pakistan had gone to stumps with only three wickets down. Instead, soon after Misbah reached his 50, he pushed a catch to cover. Zimbabwe knew just how big a big moment it was. The bowler Shingi Masakadza set off on a celebratory run, before pumping his arms and screaming at the skies. In contrast, Misbah was on one knee, bat on the floor with his arms covering his face.

Younis and Shafiq safely negotiated the final 11 overs of the day, taking the lead to 90 and ensuring two specialist batsmen were still in the middle.

The rescue operation was needed after some good work from Zimbabwe’s bowlers. As in the first innings, they produced the early breakthroughs not with magic deliveries but by sticking to the basics of line and length.

The sixth over of the innings, bowled by Tinashe Panyangara, which produced the wicket of Khurram Manzoor showcased their method of operation – pitching the ball up and constantly attacking the stumps, making the batsman play. With several deliveries swerving away in the over, Manzoor decided to shoulder arms to one, which turned out to be a straight ball that thudded into his pads. It looked a touch high but the umpire thought otherwise, and for the second time in the game, Manzoor’s innings ended early through a tough decision.

Azhar Ali, who played a vital role in rescuing Pakistan after their top-order failed in the first innings, couldn’t do the job this time, as the accurate Panyangara had him trapped lbw for a duck. Neither of the opening bowlers provided any cheap runs, and Panyangara’s figures read 7-4-6-2 at one stage.

Mohammad Hafeez didn’t last too long anyway, falling tamely after driving a low catch to short cover. His dismissal for 16 left him with a paltry 64 runs in eight innings this year.