THE chasm between Pakistan and Zimbabwe may make this five-match ODI series look meaningless: Pakistan grounded the hosts into the dust at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo in the first ODI, winning by a hefty margin of 201 runs.
There was no resistance, no challenge, as the visitors drove the show.
For Pakistan, the series is part of building up for the 2019 World Cup, and they are well on track. The series provides them an opportunity to find constancy within their ODI squad.
Opener Imam-ul-Haq, who struck his second hundred in only his fifth game, asserted his place. Along with Fakhar Zaman, he has provided stability in the top order. After a long time, Pakistan’s batting line-up looks dominant, while offering flexibility and depth.
Zimbabwe probably aren’t strong enough to stall Pakistan’s progress, but the young unknown side has a lot to offer.
Zimbabwe are playing against a team that has all its bases covered, but their own biggest strength is that they are not under pressure and have nothing to lose.
They had positives in the last game, with Tarisai Musakanda’s brief knock and debutant Ryan Murray’s unbeaten 32.
Even with the ball, they managed to keep Pakistan’s run rate in check to some extent, after Pakistan had looked like they would get 350 at one stage.
Mohammad Hafeez instantly returned to Pakistan’s limited-over squads after his bowling action was cleared, but hasn’t burst into the XI as a regular.
He played the first two T20 games in the tri-nation series earlier this month, but has been relegated to the bench since.
His exclusion flared up the discussion about dropping a senior player on the road to a World Cup, raising serious doubts about his prominence in Pakistan’s plans.
On paper, Pakistan’s squad looks very much settled, with Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman leaving no room at the top, and Babar Azam at No. 3.
It will be interesting to see if the management will give Hafeez due regard in the series.
Zimbabwe are in tatters after the mammoth defeat and there is not a lot they can do about it. They are dented by the unavailability of their top players, with the backdrop of friction between the players and the board.
The new-look squad is inexperienced. Captain Hamilton Masakadza will look at the series as a chance to give the young players in the team a chance to showcase themselves.
“It is a big opportunity for a few of the guys to have a feel of the international stage and also for a few guys that haven’t been in the team, coming back and trying to reclaim their spots,” Masakadza said.
Zimbabwe batsman Malcolm Waller has pulled out of the squad citing labour practice law. He didn’t play the opening game either, but losing a senior is a blow for Zimbabwe nonetheless.
Wicketkeeper Ryan Murray and offspinner Liam Roche made their debuts in the first ODI, but the squad is still wide open to reshuffling.
A victory by 201 runs doesn’t really call for a change in the XI, but captain Sarfraz Ahmed had suggested he would give opportunity to every reserve. However, he pointed out that wouldn’t happen before they were in an unassailable position in the series.
The weather remains cool, with the temperature hovering around 14C.
The pitch remains flat, although the team winning the toss may still be opting to bowl first to take advantage of early moisture
Pakistan (possible): 1 Fakhar Zaman 2 Imam-ul-Haq 3 Babar Azam 4 Shoaib Malik 5 Asif Ali 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt & wk) 7 Shadab Khan 8 Faheem Ashraf 9 Hasan Ali 10 Mohammad Amir 11 Usman Khan
Zimbabwe (possible): 1 Brian Chari 2 Chamu Chibhabha 3 Hamilton Masakadza (capt) 4 Tarisai Musakanda 5 Peter Moor 6 Ryan Murray (wk) 7 Donald Tiripano 8 Liam Roche 9 Wellington Masakadza 10 Tendai Chatara 11 Blessing Muzarabani