Pitch report – Harare Sports Club

We run the rule over the venue for the first Test between Zimbabwe and Pakistan in Harare, where the decision after winning the toss isn't necessarily a forgone conclusion.

<b>Capacity:</b> 15,000<br><b>Floodlights:</b> Yes<br><b>Ends:</b> City End, Club House End<br><b>Home Team:</b> Mashonaland<br><b>Test History:</b> 29 Tests; 7 home wins; 14 away wins; 8 draws<br><b>Last 10 Tests:</b> 4 home wins; 5 away wins; 1 draw<br><b>Last 10 tosses:</b> 3 batted first (2 wins, 1 draw); 7 bowled first (2 wins, 5 defeats)

<b>Overview</b><br>Situated on the leafy outskirts of the city's CBD, Harare Sports Club is one of world cricket's most pleasant grounds.

Even after the renovations prior to the 2003 World Cup, the venue has retained its laidback air, with plenty of informal stands and a newly made grassbank on the east side.

The western stand is the only one with bucket seating, having originally been built for members of the tobacco industry, who have long been ardent cricket watchers.

While the dressing rooms moved to a modern building in 2003, the original gabled pavilion has maintained some charm and houses both The Maiden – an old-style pub, and the Red Lion – a classic Rhodesian drinking hole whose regulars have hardly changed.

Castle Corner has kept its place on the south-west corner of the ground among the temporary stands, behind which the beautiful jacarandas continue to add a very Zimbabwean character.

A record crowd of 26,000 saw Rhodesia play the MCC in 1956, while the ground hosted Zimbabwe's first Test in October 1992 and was the venue for Zimbabwe's maiden Test victory – against Pakistan in 1995.

<b>Last Time Out</b><br>Zimbabwe had won the series opener by a hefty margin at the same venue in April this year, with captain Brendan Taylor's consecutive centuries at the fore of the charge. The same, however, did not transpire less than a week later.

Another decision to bowl first resulted in defeat, with plenty of batsmen cherishing good starts – but failing to convert to innings of substance, suggesting the pseudo confidence inspired by an iffy pitch.

Hamilton Masakadza, with a second-innings ton, proved their was reward for hard graft – but not enough to prevent a large loss shortly before tea on day five. Wickets, ultimately, were shared throughout the seamers and spinners – even for a visiting attack lined with slow bowlers.

<b>They Said</b><br>"We want to improve in our fast bowling and the lengths we are bowling on in these conditions. We especially need to improve our fielding. We have two spinners, Rehman and Ajmal, who have been performing very well. They have been winning Test matches for us and we really bank on them. These conditions offer something for both seamers and spinners, so whoever bowls well can get results." – Pakistan captain <b>Misbah-ul-Haq</b>.

"It was a bit soft in the morning and we didn't hit the right areas. When that happened, we also got a bit impatient. It's a much better wicket than in the first Test." – Zimbabwe all-rounder <b>Elton Chigumbura</b> after day one of the second Test earlier this year.

"There was definitely enough for the fast bowlers. We didn't hit the right areas consistently enough and we allowed them to score freely. It's hard to come back from that. We didn't back up anyone." – Zimbabwe captain <b>Brendan Taylor</b> defended his decision to bowl first in April.

"It's all about being aggressive and showing your presence. So it is definitely part of the plan not to give the Bangladesh batsmen width, and try to get them with the short ball." – Zimbabwe fast bowler <b>Shingi Masakadza</b>.

<b>Happy Hunting Ground</b><br>A long line of illustrious former batsman, including brothers Grant and Andy Flower, line the run-scoring charts at this venue – and gradually claiming their own bragging rights are <b>Hamilton Masakadza</b> and <b>Brendan Taylor</b>.

Mazakadza has scored 634 runs in 16 innings (average: 42.26) here, while Taylor's tally has climbed to an impressive 536 in 12 (average: 53.60) – thanks largely to April's back-to-back centuries.

Bowling-wise, seamer <b>Shingi Masakadza</b> leads the current pack on the back of a 10 wickets in two matches at a ground aggregate a whisker under 17 – some seven runs less than his career average.

<b>Younis Khan</b> is the lone survivor from Pakistan's last Test in Harare in 2002, but Mohammad Hafeez and company will have gained ample knowledge of conditions after a slew of limited-overs cricket here recently.

<b>Weather Forecast</b><br>Sunny, hot, without cloud cover and the threat of rain throughout, temperatures are like to peak at 28 degrees Celsius.

<b>Conclusion</b><br>The playing surface hasn't changed much over the past eight years. It has always had a bit of pace and seam for the fast bowlers to start with, but generally has very even bounce and can be on the flat side.

With concern over whether Zimbabwe's batsmen will have it in them to make a Test last five days the groundsman won't be making a juicy pitch. He will, however, leave a bit of grass on it in the hope that Zimbabwe win the toss and take advantage of early movement.

That said, triumph at the flip of the coin has proved something of a bugbear. Seven of the last 10 toss-winning skippers have bowled first, only to finish on the losing side. The hosts, too, have questions hanging over an attack void of the recently-retired Kyle Jarivs and the injured Graeme Cremer.