Pakistan and Zimbabwe will clash in the first T20 of the series being held in the latter’s home territory at the Harare Sports Club. Without a doubt, Pakistan would begin as favourites, but as Zimbabwe have proved in the recent past, they are no pushovers. Also, the T20 format gives the Zimbabweans a better chance to express themselves. Playing at home would definitely give them some sort of advantage. At the same time, Pakistan would be extremely disappointed if they end up on the losing side, particularly after being thrashed 3-0 sometime back in Bangladesh in the one-day series played there.
Shahid Afridi will be the most important member for the Pakistan squad. He is their captain, but it would be the 35-year-old’s contribution with the bat that would count most. A veteran of international cricket, Afridi is among the most destructive of players in the T20 format, which is tailor-made for him. He would be itching to go out, and play some smacking shots. He is also a very cunning bowler, and could have a big role to play with his fastish leg-spin as well. Further, he is among the best fielders in the business, which is a plus as well.
Shoaib Malik has come back well into the team after spending some time out of the reckoning. He is a valuable big-hitter in the format. The other talents in the batting department include Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez and Sohaib Maqsood. Umar Akmal also remains in the squad. He may have been exasperating in the Tests and ODIs, but his quick cameos can be game-changing in the T20 formats. They have some decent talent in the bowling department as well. Mohammad Irfan will be the key with his pace and accuracy, and they also have the likes of Wahab Riaz and Sohail Tanvir.
Zimbabwe will be led by Elton Chigumbura, who is now one of the most experienced hands in the team’s batting line-up. He has proved his prowess against the best in a team that has constantly been second best. Hamilton Masakadza is another talented batsman who has the experience to do well against Zimbabwe. But, the key to the host’s success could well lie in the performance of their all-rounders Craig Ervine and Sean Williams. On their day, both can be destructive with the bat, and are reasonably good bowlers as well. Sikandar Raza is another batsman who is capable of making a difference.
In the bowling department, Zimbabwe had Chris Mpofu, who may have to do a lot of wicket-taking work. Then, they have Prosper Utseya, who has turned himself into a decent off-break bowler. Apart from Tinashe Panyangara, who can chip in with his medium pacers, Zimbabwe will also be looking forward to some good efforts from Graeme Cremer, their experienced leg-spinner, who has troubled a few quality international batsmen. The Zimbabwe bowlers will have a task to contain Pakistan’s dangerous batting line-up, and this is where the series could effectively be lost and won.
--By A Cricket Analyst