T20 series preview: Zimbabwe v Pakistan

If ever there was the perfect time for Zimbabwe to play a couple of Twenty20s, surely it is now, suggests Tristan Holme ahead of the two-match series.

If ever there was the perfect time for Zimbabwe to play a couple of Twenty20s, surely it is now. What was clear in their heavy defeat in the one-day series was that third, fourth and fifth gears are all lacking in the batting department, while the bowling could do with a bit more innovation and invention.

As a team Zimbabwe have largely been doing the basics right, and in the process have shown that there's a good deal of talent to work with. However when they've been required to up the tempo in a run chase the necessary fluency just hasn't been there, and a flurry of wickets has generally been the result.

One could argue that this has plenty to do with the fact that they don't play a great deal of Twenty20 cricket, which asks batsmen to step outside of the textbook and throw away their inhibitions.

Since the advent of Twenty20 Zimbabwe have played just 14 internationals, a pitiful number when you put it next to Pakistan's 46. The situation at domestic level is similar – the Mashonaland Eagles played just six matches on their way to Twenty20 glory last season. South of the border, whoever wins this season's Pro20 competition in South Africa will play 14 games.

This may have helped Zimbabwe on their return to Test cricket, where most of the batsmen have displayed admirable technique, but they're lacking a dimension to their one-day strokeplay. One hopes that they will therefore approach these two Twenty20s without any fear, and simply look to play with freedom and adventure. The fear of collapse which held them back in the middle overs of the ODIs should not apply here.

As for the bowling, the seamers have shown an ability to be accurate and consistent, but on flat pitches that is often not enough. Chris Mpofu admits that adding a slower ball to his repertoire has turned his game around, and Kyle Jarvis and Brian Vitori need to do likewise.

Charles Coventry and Cephas Zhuwao have been added to the squad for the two matches in Harare. Coventry's batting was all over the shop at the World Cup, where he was asked to perform the unfamiliar role of opening the batting, but having had some time to take stock of his situation he now has the opportunity for a third coming.

Having won the Test and swept the one-day series, Pakistan will view the Twenty20 series as a chance to have a bit of fun. The tour has been a great success, particularly in the way the inexperienced fast bowlers have been blooded.

The only member of the touring party not to play a match so far is Rameez Raja, so expect the 24-year-old to enjoy his first international showing in one or both of the matches. Having played a key role with the bat in the Karachi Dolphins' run to the final of their recent domestic Twenty20 competition, where they lost a one-over eliminator to the Rawalpindi Rams, Raja will be one to watch.

Misbah-ul-Haq said that there would be two or three changes to the side that took the field in the third one-dayer as Pakistan look to find the right Twenty20 balance. One imagines they will look to field their strongest possible side in the first match, with Saeed Ajmal likely to return, before possibly giving a game to others in the second.

<b>Key Men</b><br><i>Zimbabwe:</i> Vusi Sibanda has shown poise at the top of the innings, but Zimbabwe desperately need someone to add quick runs down the order and finish the knock off with a bang. <b>Elton Chigumbura</b> has the weightiest blade in this regard, so it would be handy to see him find form in this series. His limited-overs bowling also appears to have found a bit more maturity – he was crucial to stopping the quick flow of runs in the third ODI.

<i>Pakistan:</i> Having spent almost three weeks in Zimbabwe without getting a game, <b>Rameez Raja</b> will be champing at the bit. A 97 in the domestic T20 semi-final and a top-scoring 64 in the final suggest that Twenty20 is his game, so expect him to come out firing at Harare Sports Club.

<b>Only Head-To-Head Result</b><BR>October 2008: Pakistan won by seven wickets in Ontario

<b>Prediction</b><br>If Zimbabwe can free the shackles then they should push Pakistan close, but the tourists have so much more experience – both internationally and domestically – in the shortest form of the game so another series sweep is on the cards.

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

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

<b>Fixtures</b><br>First T20I: Harare, 16 September<BR>Second T20I: Harare, 18 September

<b>Tristan Holme</b>