Zimbabwe struggle under dark skies

25 overs Zimbabwe 85 for 5 (Ervine 39*, Chigumbura 1*, Gul 2-13) v Pakistan

Under leaden skies in Pallekele, beleaguered Zimbabwe captain Elton Chigumbura’s decision to bat first backfired spectacularly as his team slipped to 85 for 5 after 25 overs. Proceedings resembled an early-spring Headingley fixture with the ball hooping around and the batsmen scrambling for survival.

It meant a far happier trip to Pallekele for Pakistan than their last outing at the ground, where they suffered a 110-run routing at the hands of New Zealand. Having struggled for new-ball wickets throughout the tournament, Umar Gul and Abdul Razzakq shared three inside the first six overs on Monday.

Razzaq was flogged for 49 from 4 overs in the New Zealand defeat but struck with the fifth ball of the day here removing Zimbabwe’s key player Brendan Taylor. A regulation nick behind was made almost spectacular by the fact it was pouched by Kamran Akmal. The Pakistan wicketkeeper has been ridiculed after his shambolic display in the last game but his team have remained, publicly at least, highly supportive, so it was a relief that he held the chance.

Gul then found considerable inswing to squeeze past Regis Chakabva’s inside edge and trap him in front for a duck. With the batsmen intent on survival, newcomer Vusi Sibanda prodded around tortuously for 10 balls before guiding a sharp catch off the face of the bat to Misbah-ul-Haq’s right at slip. It was the kind of chance that frequently darts past an uncertain slip cordon but Misbah moved swiftly to pluck it out the air and send Sibanda on his way for 5.

Having snaffled the tough one, Misbah then dropped a far simpler offering from Craig Ervine to deny Razzaq a second wicket. Ervine had looked more certain than his colleagues but edged a full ball straight to slip where Misbah fluffed the take.

All the while Tatenda Taibu had busily resisted and twice drove through the off side before toe-ending an uppish drive off Wahab Riaz straight to Shahid Afridi at mid-off. It gave Riaz, in the side for Shoaib Akhtar, an early strike and sent Taibu on his way for 19. At that stage Zimbabwe were tottering at 43 for 4 and looked like they would be knocked over quickly, but Ervine made the most of his reprieve and found willing support in Greg Lamb.

Happy to shun risk and rebuild, the pair added 41 in 11.1 overs. Afridi’s gentle first delivery – a shin-high full toss – was punched neatly down the ground by Lamb for four and the bowler’s frustration built in his third over when an Ervine top-edged reverse-sweep looped out of the reach of short third man and ran away to the boundary. Two balls later a slider rapped Ervine on the pads but the ball had pitched outside leg stump. Despite advice from Kamran not to, Afridi demanded a review, which only confirmed the obvious.

Just as pressure was beginning to build on Pakistan, however, Lamb popped up a simple return catch to Afridi, chipping a wide delivery to fall for 16. Afridi’s celebration was not quite as bombastic as normal but his team were firmly in control. His opposite number, Chigumbura, arrived at the wicket desperately out of form and needing to make up for his decision to bat first.


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