Pakistan’s tour of Zimbabwe gets underway in Harare with back-to-back Twenty20 International clashes and the hosts will be hoping to put their chaotic preparations behind them.
A recent player strike concerning payments meant that training was suspended for a few days while a second-string Indian side inflicted a 5-0 drubbing in an ODI series earlier in the month.
If visitors Pakistan can take anything from this tour, then it will be a growing familiarity of the Harare Sports Club, with six of the seven matches being contested there.
But seriously, the Asian country will be looking to build on a rare period of consistency and to their credit, they have selected a strong format-specific side for this pair of T20 Internationals.
Dav Whatmore's side are ranked second in the International rankings and have won 42 of 69 games
In the shortest form of the game, the sides have met three times with Pakistan coming out on top on each occasion. During those clashes, Zimbabwe’s highest score with the bat was just 136, which they made in the last meeting between the pair in September 2011.
Recent T20 form
Zimbabwe squared a two-game T20 series with Bangladesh in May, but were beaten twice by the West Indies in March and failed to win a game at ICC World T20 including the pre-tournament warm-ups.
Since getting to the semifinals of the aforementioned ICC World T20, Pakistan have won four of the five completed short-format matches they have contested, which includes white-washing the West Indies in the Caribbean.
Before his county's tour of the Caribbean, Shahid Afridi’s batting had become almost slapstick however. A knock of 76 in an ODI at Guyana and a 46 at a Kingstown T20 suggested something of a resurgence. The all-rounders bowling remains dangerous as evidenced by astonishing figures of seven for 12 also against the West Indies.
Zimbabwe normally rely on Captain Brendan Taylor to provide some solidarity to their middle order. The batsman and wicketkeeper boasts a creditable average of over 25 in the T20 Internationals and has scored four half centuries. However, he needs to recover rapidly from his shocking series against India where he chalked up three ducks.
Promising pace bowler Kyle Jarvis has turned his back on Zimbabwe cricket after deciding to accept a three-year contract with Lancashire, further denting his country's hopes to improve.
Zimbabwe (possible): 1 Vusi Sibanda, 2 Hamilton Masakadza, 3 Sikandar Raza, 4 Brendan Taylor (capt & wk), 5 Malcolm Waller, 6 Sean Williams, 7 Shingi Masakadza, 8 Prosper Utseya, 9 Natsai M'shangwe, 10 Brian Vitori, 11 Tinashe Panyangara
Mohammad Hafeez takes the leadership reigns before Misbah-Ul-Haq arrives for the ODI’s while Umar Akmal is out with a worrying injury and has been replaced by Sarfraz Ahmed.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Nasir Jamshed, 2 Mohammad Hafeez (capt), 3 Ahmed Shehzad, 4 Umar Amin, 5 Haris Sohail, 6 Shahid Afridi, 7 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 8 Sohail Tanvir, 9 Zulfiqar Babar, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Asad Ali
The forecast is for constant sunshine with an average temperature of 25 degrees.
It is not rocket science to predict Pakistan should romp home here. The perpetual talent drain on Zimbabwe cricket makes it difficult for them to compete against the big boys. However, if they manage to get a total on the board then Pakistan's notoriously fragile batting lineup could be put under pressure.
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