Cricket is back in Pakistan, and fans will be pleased that their home side has struck the winning note. So what if the opponents are Zimbabwe. This is a series Pakistan desperately needed, and will be pleased that they have begun well. Pakistan will head into the ODI series having won both the T20s. Yes, both the matches were close, but that is credit to Zimbabwe's fighting spirit more than anything else. Pakistan were always expected to win the T20s, and they will go in as favourites in the one-dayers as well. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, will also be pleased with the effort they have put up, although the end result hasn't been in their favour.
Match: Pakistan vs Zimbabwe, 1st ODI at Lahore
Time: Match begin at 16:00 local time (11:00 GMT | 4:30 PM IST)
The one-day series against Zimbabwe will be significant for Pakistan for more than one reason, the most important of them being that they were absolutely marauded by Bangladesh in the three-match series that was held in the latter's home territory. Even while one would agree that Bangladesh are no longer pushovers at the international stage, no one expected Pakistan to go down in the manner that they did to Bangladesh. Not only did the loss embarrass them, it demoted them in ODI rankings to number 9. The ODIs against Zimbabwe will give Pakistan an opportunity to recover some of their lost pride, and that too on home territory. Another loss would prove to be a major setback.
Having been easily dismantled by Bangladesh, Pakistan have expectedly made some changes to their one-day squad for the games against Zimbabwe. The selectors have recalled two extremely experienced men in Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Shami. Critics might argue that Pakistan cricket has taken a backward step by bringing back two veterans who may be well past their prime. At the same time, one can understand the team's dilemma. With two of their stalwarts in Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi having retired after the World Cup, Pakistan's batting was weakened significantly. And, the youngsters who were tried out in the last series did not live up to the task.
Apart from the comeback men, a number of newcomers will again be under pressure to perform. After all, Pakistan have handed over spots to Immad Wasim and Babar Azam. Further all-rounders, Hammad Azam and Anwar Ali have been recalled in an endeavour to strengthen the team. Their performances could be crucial to the team's cause, as will that of Ahmed Shehzad, who has also found a way back in the one-day outfit. Against Bangladesh, new skipper Azhar Ali was among the brightest spots with some fine knocks. He will again have to lead from the front with the bat. Azhar's leadership skills will also be put to further test. As for Zimbabwe, it will again be about giving it their very best. They will be well aware of their weaknesses, and must play around it. Bowling is definitely one area where they are hugely handicapped, as has been the case for a while. This hurt them in the T20s as they undid their batsmen's good work. The batsmen will thus have to take additional responsibility yet again. Zimbabwe are blessed to have talents like Hamilton Masakadza, Elton Chigumbura and Sean Williams. All of them were in fine form in the ODIs. The latter, in fact, is a gifted all-rounder as well. Zimbabwe will be pleased that their T20 nemesis Mukhtar Ahmed hasn't been chosen. Can that aid them on to better things?
--By A Cricket Analyst