Another series, another opportunity lost for Zimbabwe.
Pakistan were never in full command of proceedings throughout the series. Batting first in all three matches, the totals were just about on par given the strong bowling lineup. But for the hosts, for all the promise they had shown earlier in the series—including threats in the two Twenty20s and racing past the finish line in the opening ODI—the surrender was quite meek in the decider.
Death-bowling Zimbabwe’s concern
Apart from the opening ODI, where Pakistan managed just 54, the tourists ran riot and ran away with the match in the last 10 overs of their innings. Zimbabwe had been able to contain the touring batsmen up until that point, via impeccable lines and Pakistan’s refusal to take singles or hit boundaries.
However, with the batsmen set and needing to hit out in order to post a competitive total, all Zimbabwe had to do was a bit more of what they were already doing: keeping it straight and simple. Testing and trying too many things, however, resulted in extras, full-tosses, rank deliveries half-way down the pitch and plenty of boundaries.
In the second ODI, Pakistan racked up 106 in the last 10 and 94 in the decider, effectively taking the momentum with them when they came out to bowl. Brendan Taylor juggled his bowlers well, but Pakistan’s experience, and Zimbabwe’s lack of it, remained a huge concern, one that ultimately ended up costing them the series.
“I think our bowlers missed our lengths and probably didn't have a clear enough plan,” said Taylor, bemoaning his bowlers’ ineffectiveness at the death in this ESPN report.
Pakistan’s snail-pace at the top
It looked like the 1980s all over again—watchful start with eyes on 250 as opposed to 350 against a relatively weaker batting attack.
Pakistan have adopted this strange, cautious approach to the start of the innings of late, one that has cost them often in the recent past—the opening-ODI loss against Zimbabwe was the latest.
The plan is to conserve energy and the wickets for a late onslaught, relying on batsmen’s luck to be there till that point. Refusing singles, banishing boundaries out of their heads and the Test-match approach remained worrying given it was being implemented by Nasir Jamshed and Ahmed Shehzad, the openers with aggression running through their blood.
The plan has come off at times—helped by Zimbabwe’s faltering end with the ball—and works best when the batsman consuming those deliveries stays there to make it even by the end. In the second ODI, Misbah-ul-Haq crawled to three off 22 before being dismissed, while Ahmed Shehzad perished for an 85-ball 54 in the final ODI before being able to change gears.
With South Africa being Pakistan’s next opponents, there might not be opportunity to score 90-plus runs in the final 10 overs. Misbah’s men also had a torrid time against South Africa’s pacers earlier this year. The plan must be flexible, to score when possible and pace the innings effectively as opposed to waiting for the final straight.
Misbah saved the day once again, despite taking 12 balls to get off the mark and sitting at seven off 34 at one stage. Beware of the day when he can’t.
Extra hospitality by the hosts
A total of 40 wides in three matches—that is what Zimbabwe graciously offered Pakistan in their bid to win the series. Not just the extra runs but also the extra deliveries that helped the tourists reach targets beyond the hosts’ reach—on two out of three occasions at least.
Pakistan did give away 20 wides, but their superior bowling attack—an enviable mixture of pace and spin—allowed them to crawl back when needed.
Zimbabwe didn’t have that luxury. Coupled with ineffective death-bowling covered at the top, Zimbabwe’s hospitality courtesy left Taylor helpless and, at times, shocked at how quickly his bowlers can go from being in total command to showing their lack of experience.
Where has Jamshed gone?
Nasir Jamshed burst onto the international scene by carting Zimbabwe bowlers to all corners—especially cow corner—in a warm-up match in Karachi.
Up until the tour of India earlier this year, Jamshed’s 22 ODIs fetched him 955 runs at an average of over 50 and a strike-rate of 89. Since the loss in Delhi, Jamshed’s 17 ODIs have seen him score just 401 runs at 23.58. Shocking has been the drop in his scoring rate which stands at just over 60.
Jamshed did get starts in all three mtches—27, 32 and 38 to show from his efforts—but apart from the occasional exceptionally well-timed flicks over midwicket, the left-hander seemed bothered. Now, he’s battling heart versus orders, often ending up in a tangle. Since his back-to-back centuries in India, Jamshed has managed 13 20-plus scores in 18 ODIs but just two half-centuries.
Jamshed’s not part of the Test squad and, if selected, his next opponents will be South Africa. He managed just 45 runs in three innings against them earlier this year. Going by his show in Zimbabwe, Jamshed needs plenty of adjustments if he plans on improving those stats.
Elton Chigumbura’s role in the side
Much was expected from Elton Chigumbura, a senior player in the side. He failed to deliver probably even half of that but was that all just his fault?
He wasn’t needed with the bat in the opening-ODI win and bowled just two overs for 11 runs. A golden duck followed—leg before wicket off a Junaid Khan delivery pitching outside leg—after he had bowled single over for 10 runs earlier in the day. Coming in at No. 7 in the decider, Chigumbura laboured to two off 13 before Shahid Afridi got the better of him.
With Sean Williams and Malcolm Waller going in ahead of him and growing in stature given their clean hitting, Chigumbura’s role in the side is not defined anymore. He is not needed with the ball and comes in late with the bat when much is lost anyway.
He’s only 27 and has played 153 ODIs, closing in on 3,000 runs and 100 wickets but lack of contribution from their once premier all-rounder left Taylor with a huge void to fill.