It was difficult to decide what was more brutal: the giant that isMohammad Irfan stretching the Zimbabwe batsmen’s every sinew of resolve, the grimacing of Elton Chigumbura every time he took a step, no doubt ripping his torn quadricep up a little more, or the gulf between Pakistan and Zimbabwe, which grew smaller, larger, smaller and then finished the same way it began.
The giants were not slayed, the little guys did not win, and in the end, what matters is that Pakistan’s quarter-final hopes are alive, while Zimbabwe’s are all but over.
But the drama of the second half of the match did not decide its outcome as much as the deeds of the first did. For the third time in three matches, Pakistan’s batting let them down. For the fourth time in four matches, Zimbabwe’s death bowling let them down.
After having Pakistan on the ropes at 162 for 6 from 40 overs, Zimbabwe conceded 73 in the last 10. They ended up falling just 20 short as Irfan and Wahab Riaz defended a total that was not quite in the realms of the indefensible, but close enough for Pakistan to feel far from comfortable.
Zimbabwe’s opening pair failed again, this time overawed by Irfan. Chamu Chibhabha, forced to evade and ride the bounce, was beaten before he pointed his bat one way and his body the other to effectively direct the ball into Haris Sohail’s hands. Sikandar Raza went in similar fashion when the ball took the shoulder of the bat to find second slip.
The experience of Hamilton Masakadza and Brendan Taylor showed as they handled Irfan a little better. They also had less of him to handle and a little more reprieve. Wahab, Rahat Ali and Sohail Khan all offered boundary balls and the pair knew when to accept the offerings.
Although the run-rate hovered around three-and-a-half, their approach of keeping wickets in hand seemed sensible until they detracted from it. When Irfan was brought back for a second spell, Masakadza tried to take him on but skied to mid-off where Misbah-ul-Haq took a tumbling catch.
But Zimbabwe were unfazed. Taylor and Sean Williams accelerated, with Williams taking on Irfan and pushing for singles, often turning them into twos. Their 50-run partnership came up in 41 balls and in the next over, Taylor brought up his first milestone of this tournament. However, three balls later, Taylor threw it away as he tried to tickle a ball down the leg side only to edge behind.
Akmal did not take his next chance as simply. Craig Ervine got an edge off Shahid Afridi when he was on just four, but the ball popped out of Akmal’s gloves. Pakistan may have rued that error but everything changed when in the next over, Williams also gifted his wicket. He pulled a Rahat short ball to backward point and remained rooted to the crease in disbelief.
Ervine was joined by Solomon Mire, who only lasted long enough to flash at Irfan, but the big question was whether Chigumbura would join the fight. After injuring himself in the field, Chigumbura would have hoped for some feet-up time but limped onto the park to face 13 overs and try to see Zimbabwe home.
He may have wanted to give up when Riaz removed Ervine and Mupariwa in the same over but marshaled his No.10, Tinashe Panyangara, through a 47-run, ninth-wicket stand. It gave Zimbabwe hope of pulling off something special. Chigumbura played sensibly, turning down runs when he knew he would not be able to, and attacking when he could.
He kept Zimbabwe in it until the last over, although they needed 24 runs to win by then. Chigumbura did everything that could have been expected of a man who had to leave the field in the 24th over, after falling while trying to gather a ball. At that point, he had seen his team enforce a squeeze he would have been proud of.
Panyangara began with signature discipline and Tendai Chatara surprising speed – the gun put him in the lower 140kphs. Between them, they frustrated Pakistan’s openers. Nasir Jamshed’s patience was up by the end of the second over, when he pulled a Chatara short ball to Sikandar Raza at square leg. Ahmed Shehzad seemed to be slightly coping better with the lack of scoring opportunities but could do nothing against the delivery that nipped away, kissed the edge and gave Taylor a simple catch.
At 4 for 2, Pakistan were teetering but Misbah took control with the help of Haris, who scored the first four in the sixth over. Another boundary did not come until the 15th over, by which time Pakistan had the unenviable record of the lowest 15-over score of this World Cup – 33 for 2.
Their 50 came up in the 19th over but more important than the pace was the partnership. It was worth 54 before it was ended due to recklessness. Haris had enough of hanging around and pulled a Raza long hop he should have dispatched into the stands, to Williams at short midwicket. Just when things seemed to be going right for Zimbabwe, they suddenly went horribly wrong. In the 24th over, Chigumbura, running from mid-off, chased after a delivery Misbah drove but fell over before collecting, and had to be helped off the field.
Taylor took over the captaincy duties and immediately got the spinners working in tandem. The first four overs Williams and Raza bowled together cost 24 runs as Akmal added some urgency. It was also during this period that Misbah raised his half-century, off 91 balls.
Williams, however, once again jolted Pakistan with a double strike. First, he fired one in quick and fast that straightened as it passed Akmal’s outside edge and hit the top of his offstump. Two balls later, he popped the balloon on Afridi’s 35th birthday when he got one to turn past his forward defense and crash into the stumps, dismissing the batsman for his first World Cup duck.
Zimbabwe brought their front-line seamers back for the Powerplay and Tawanda Mupariwa struck, as Maqsood gave him a return catch off a leading edge. Pakistan limped to the 40th over on 162 for 6 but still, alarm bells would have been ringing for Zimbabwe.
Chatara had the wicket of Misbah to add to a fine afternoon’s effort, but Panyangara was a little less accurate, missing the yorker and going too short, much to the delight of Wahab.
Wahab plundered all but three of the 33 runs taken off Panyangara’s last three overs, hitting cleanly and targeting gaps. It proved far too costly, as Zimbabwe eventually missed a glorious chance to extend Pakistan’s losing run. Courtesy: Cricinfo.com