Bulawayo: This was, by far, the most competitive match of the series. Pakistan won it by 131 runs. That these two statements stand together without contradiction is the best indicator of the manner in which it has gone. Utterly bereft of competitive edge or even the prospect of it, Pakistan have reigned supreme all series. Nothing that happened today changed that, except Zimbabwe seemed to accept the fact, and, having set a target of 365 on the back of tons from Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq, didn’t even bother chasing it. Instead, they used it as an opportunity to give themselves batting practice against one of the fiercest bowling line-ups in world cricket, and as they trudged to 233 for four by the end of their 50 overs, they could at least claim success on that front. Hamilton Masakdza and Tinashe Kamunhukamwe began solidly, trying to play themselves into touch. While they got regular boundaries, they were never able to rotate the strike effectively, and the innings took on a pattern of block-or-bash. Indeed, throughout their innings, Zimbabwe struck more sixes than Pakistan (nine compared to six), which illustrated the point that there’s more to a huge chase than looking for release shots every other over.
The pair put on 66 for the opening wicket; two thirds of the runs came in boundaries. One wicket spawned another, though, and when Kamunhukamwe failed to get underneath a short ball from Mohammad Nawaz, short midwicket took a sharp catch. Two balls later, Hasan Ali castled Masakadza, sending middle and off stump gloriously cartwheeling away, and Zimbabwe had two new batsmen at the crease again.
Ryan Murray, perhaps the brightest spot for Zimbabwe this series, built another solid partnership with Prince Masvaure. By then, the match was completely a training session, and even Sarfraz, ever audible behind the stumps, remarked he thought the pair wanted to bat the full 50 overs. Pakistan weren’t the best in the field today, no less than four catches were put down – three of them tough chances – which meant the game ended up being much longer than it might have.
The game, as ever, was won in the first innings. Centuries from Imam – his third of the series – and Babar guided Pakistan towards a mammoth 364 without ever looking like they were trying too hard to force the issue. That was partially because they didn’t feel the need to, as they thumped a Zimbabwe attack that must be sick of the sight of Fakhar Zaman and Imam occupying the Bulawayo crease by now.
After Pakistan won the toss and opted to bat first (if you followed the previous game, why wouldn’t they?) the left-handed opening pair continued the ritual of grinding Zimbabwe into submission, racking up their fourth-century partnership in five innings. The tone of the game was set once more, and Pakistan were on their way to a colossal total.
Imam played the starring role today, waltzing to his fourth century in just nine ODIs in a fledgeling but hugely promising career. He was the man chiefly in charge during the first half of the innings as Fakhar took the back seat and watched the 21-year-old make the most of a flat pitch and flatter bowlers. One can only play who they’re up against, though, and Imam has done that most crucial thing every young batsman is taught: when in form, cash in.
From Zimbabwe’s perspective, it was an improved bowling performance from Masakadza’s men, particularly since ace fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani missed out through injury. While the openers’ wickets were never threatened in the first hour, Chris Mpofu and Tendai Chatara didn’t let them cut loose in the way they had in earlier games. Indeed, Fakhar by his own standards was much subdued throughout, taking 62 balls to reach his half-century.
Liam Roche, back in the side after sitting the previous two games out, was the man who finally did make the breakthrough, dismissing Fakhar for the second time this series. It was a flat, quicker delivery too close to cut, but Fakhar, in the form he was in, decided to attempt one anyway. A faint top edge carried through to the keeper at exactly the halfway mark of the innings, and Fakhar, who looked for all his life to be coasting towards his third hundred in four games, had to depart 15 runs shy. Agencies