ODI series preview: Zimbabwe v Pakistan


Pakistan's decision to leave their frontline pace bowlers at home has been vindicated, and they now look well-placed to claim the one-day series, writes Tristan Holme.

Truth be told, this moment was always going to come for Zimbabwe and deep down inside they must have known it. That might not have felt like the case when they were 3-0 up in a one-day series against Bangladesh having skinned the Tigers by 130 runs on their Test return, but a step up in the quality of their opposition was bound to ask more questions of them and over five days they just didn't have enough answers.

For Pakistan there was vindication of their decision to leave their two frontline seamers at home, and they now look well-placed to claim the one-day series despite the continued absence of Umar Gul and Wahab Riaz, one top-class one-day bowler and one very good one.

While Junaid Khan and Sohail Khan seemed to get a bit carried away in the Test match and bowled too many wayward bouncers, a return to the limited-overs game may shackle some of those wild spirits and enforce some discipline. Aizaz Cheema was more impressive on his debut and will be a menace in the ODIs, while Sohail Tanvir has the opportunity to show that his career is on an upward curve again after a couple of years spent on the fringes of the international scene.

By all accounts it looks a decent piece of planning by the tourists to test out the foursome, mixing them up in different combinations throughout the series, and there's no reason why they shouldn't expect to come out on top in all three matches. Pakistan have the firepower at the top of their batting order, some decent stability in the middle and a couple of spinners who will continue to test the Zimbabwean batsmen.

With the Bulawayo surface proving dry at the end of a typically dusty winter, and with the hosts sporting an atrocious record at Queens Sports Club, the first one-dayer is Pakistan's for the taking. From that point it would take an admirable fightback from the hosts in Harare to take the series spoils.

At the time of writing Zimbabwe were yet to formally announce their one-day squad – despite some prompting – but it's fair to assume that the usual suspects will be in attendance. Elton Chigumbura is still recovering from injury but could feature in the latter stages of the series, while Forster Mutizwa and Regis Chakabva will come into contention for batting places.

Chigumbura's absence could open up a major opportunity for Malcolm Waller, whose intermittent appearances – usually in the lower order – have rarely allowed him to show his full potential. With Chigumbura out he is likely to fill the all-rounder's role and provide a third spinning option, and he should be buoyed by his half-century in a losing cause in the final one-dayer against Bangladesh last month.

Just as Pakistan have promised to give everyone in their touring party a run at some stage, so Zimbabwe could do with a bit of experimentation. That said, fringe players need to be given more than a single outing to prove themselves when the chance does come along.

<b>Key Men</b><br><i>Zimbabwe:</i> <b>Tatenda Taibu</b> is turning out to be Zimbabwe's man for a crisis, but also their most competent player against spin. With Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez again looking to torment their hosts, Taibu's influence from the No. 4 position will be crucial.

<i>Pakistan:</i> Rarely has a Pakistani one-day line-up had so few big hitters. With the likes of Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq missing from the lower order, responsibility for a quick tempo moves onto <b>Mohammad Hafeez</b>'s shoulders. The opener has the ability to take the game away from Zimbabwe at the start of an innings.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><BR>March, 2011: World Cup, Group A: Pakistan won by seven wickets Pallekele<BR>February, 2008: Fifth ODI: Pakistan won by seven wickets in Sheikhupura<BR>January, 2008: Fourth ODI: Pakistan won by seven wickets in Faisalabad<BR>January, 2008: Third ODI: Pakistan won by 37 runs in Multan<BR>January, 2008: Second ODI: Pakistan won by five wickets in Hyderabad

<b>Prediction</b><br>The gap between the sides in the Test would not have been so great were it not for Zimbabwe dropping catches. If they can improve their fielding then the hosts will run Pakistan close in each game, but will still do well to win one.

Online betting firm <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>Sky Bet</b></a> has Pakistan as the favourites for the series. Visit Sky Bet for the latest <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>cricket betting</b></a>.

<b>Squads</b><br><i>Zimbabwe:</i> Brendan Taylor (capt), Regis Chakabva, Elton Chigumbura, Craig Ervine, Kyle Jarvis, Hamilton Masakadza, Christopher Mpofu, Ray Price, Vusi Sibanda, Tatenda Taibu (wk), Prosper Utseya, Brian Vitori, Malcolm Waller, Chamu Chibhabha.

<i>Pakistan:</i> Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umar, Imran Farhat, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Umar Akmal, Rameez Raja, Adnan Akmal (wk), Saeed Ajmal, Yasir Shah, Sohail Tanvir, Sohail Khan, Junaid Khan, Aizaz Cheema.

<b>Fixtures</b><br>First ODI: Bulawayo, 8 September<BR>Second ODI: Harare, 11 September<BR>Third ODI: Harare, 14 September

<b>Tristan Holme</b>