Zimbabwe's Sean Williams batting during the second ODI. (AP Photo)
Harare: An ODI series that began with Pakistan clear favourites after taking the two Twenty20 internationals now has implications for both teams with Zimbabwe having far more to gain out of a victory in the final match at the Harare Sports Club on Saturday. Pakistan were expected to beat Zimbabwe convincingly - they had not lost to them in 15 years - but now need to win to take the series, following an upset win in the first ODI.
For Zimbabwe, victory will give them their first bilateral series against top-class opposition in 12 years and give them reason to rejoice after the 0-5 loss against a second-string India. A loss in Harare will be an embarrassment for Misbah-ul-Haq's team, which in 2013 has so far won nine of nine matches, including series wins over India, West Indies, Scotland and Ireland.
For both teams, the final outcome will hinge on the batting. Pakistan's shock loss in the first ODI was a consequence of a collapse of 5 for 44, after Misbah and Mohammad Hafeez put on 99 for the third wicket, that gave them just 244 on the board. Zimbabwe were able to chase that thanks to a century opening stand between the senior pair of Vusi Sibanda and Hamilton Masakadza (who was Man of the Match for his 85) and fifty-stands for the second and fourth wickets - the last of which saw Brendan Taylor and Sean Williams accumulate 45 in 32 balls to clinch victory.
In the next ODI, Pakistan drew level thanks to a total of 299 for 4 that owed to Hafeez's 136* followed by 59 from Umar Amin and Shahid Afridi's unbeaten 39 from just 23 balls. Unlike in the first match, Hafeez converted a fifty into a dominant century and Afridi was able to larrup quick runs at the death to put up a big total. Chasing 300, Zimbabwe only had one half-centurion (Taylor) and were unable to forge partnerships as the run rate increased. That they were also bowled out inside 43 overs was damning. Sufficed to say, the batsmen on both sides will have to deliver in the deciding match.
Pakistan have a better bowling attack and this was exemplified by the performance of left-arm quick Junaid Khan on Thursday, capturing 4 for 15 in seven overs to help bowl Zimbabwe out for 209. Left-arm spinner Abdur Rehman was also drafted into the XI and took 2 for 36, opening the bowling with Mohammad Irfan. While Saeed Ajmal has not been at his best in this series, he remains a run-controller and gives Pakistan a big advantage.
Zimbabwe will need their strike bowler Brian Vitori (four wickets at 27.50) to be at his best, especially considering that Tinashe Panyangara is wicketless and the veteran Prosper Utseya has struggled to penetrate the Pakistan batting order. All this will be on Taylor's mind as Zimbabwe attempt to win their first significant ODI series since January 2001 - when they beat New Zealand 2-1.
Zimbabwe: 1 Vusi Sibanda, 2 Hamilton Masakadza, 3 Brendan Taylor (capt/wk), 4 Timycen Maruma, 5 Sean Williams, 6 Malcolm Waller, 7 Elton Chigumbura, 8 Prosper Utseya, 9 Tinashe Panyangara, 10 Tendai Chatara, 11 Brian Vitori
Pakistan: 1 Nasir Jamshed, 2 Ahmed Shehzad, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 5 Umar Amin, 6 Shahid Afridi, 7 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 8 Saeed Ajmal, 9 Abdur Rehman, 10 Junaid Khan, 11 Mohammad Irfan