With the series at stake, Pakistan hit back strongly by posting a total well beyond Zimbabwe’s reach, thereby giving the final match greater context. Mohammad Hafeez led the way with an attacking, unbeaten 136 to lift Pakistan to 299, and although Zimbabwe had their moments in the chase, they failed to stretch Pakistan over a sustained period. A clump of wickets towards the end widened the gap between the two sides, as the margin of victory suggested.
Both sides, while batting, were removed from their comfort zones. Pakistan didn’t have the safety net of a steady Misbah-ul-Haq innings for the other batsmen to bat around. A rare failure from Misbah gave Hafeez the chance to step up and guide the innings. Zimbabwe, for a change didn’t have the luxury of a solid opening stand in the face of a daunting total, and the middle order couldn’t cover the slack. Pakistan, though, responded better to the challenge.
Put in to bat, Pakistan had a better idea of the kind the score needed to intimidate a confident Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe were guilty of dropping catches in the first ODI but those let-offs, fortunately, didn’t cost them in the end. While they were relatively better today, one lapse cost them plenty of runs. When on 30, Hafeez went for the slog sweep but as the ball dipped towards deep square leg, Brian Vitori was a touch too late on the dive. He couldn’t hang on and Zimbabwe were made to rue the missed chance.
Hafeez’s driving, flicking and defense against the seamers was solid and he used his feet against Prosper Utseya, lofting two sixes over long-on. He launched Elton Chigumbura over the same region as he progressed to his fifty off 65 balls. Following Misbah’s departure – he limped to 3 off 23 balls – Pakistan had lost all their experienced batsmen, but Umar Amin stepped up to give Hafeez the support he needed. Amin looked busy at the crease, looking to push the singles and attempting the odd slog, looking on nervously at his senior partner who urged him to play straighter.
Amin opened up at the start of the batting Powerplay, taken in the 36th over, clipping Utseya wide of midwicket and then launching him over cover the next ball. He found the gaps with ease through the off side and reached his maiden fifty in ODIs off just 61 balls. Pakistan smashed 43 in the Powerplay without losing a wicket, setting the platform for their late-innings acceleration.
Amin was eventually run-out from a direct hit by Tendai Chatara, but not before adding a valuable 129 with Hafeez. Hafeez made sure his side didn’t lose the initiative, like they did on Tuesday with a collapse, batting positively and finding the gaps. He had all but bettered his highest ODI score (139*), made on the same ground two years ago. A blazing cameo from Shahid Afridi took Pakistan to the doorstep of 300.
Hamilton Masakadza and Vusi Sibanda had, until this game, produced opening stands of 53, 50 and 107 so it was a relief for Pakistan that the openers disbanded early as the third over. Masakadza found early momentum with some powerful boundaries off Mohammad Irfan before he was beaten for pace by Junaid Khan, losing his off stump. Much depended on Brendan Taylor to lead the way. He and Sean Williams weren’t afraid to take on the spinners, reverse sweeping them regularly. They targeted Pakistan’s main bowler, Saeed Ajmal, in his first over, playing the conventional and reverse sweeps to give the chase some momentum.
Taylor kept Zimbabwe’s hopes alive with a positive fifty – his first in 13 innings – and it got to the stage where Pakistan were in need of a breakthrough. Ajmal provided that when he beat an advancing Williams, getting him stumped. Taylor had added 70 with Williams and 65 with Malcolm Waller, but all along they failed to keep with the rising asking rate.
The slide started towards the end of the batting Powerplay – taken after 35 overs – when Taylor top-edged a sweep off Ajmal, only to be caught one-handed by the 7ft 1″ Irfan. Any other fielder, it would have been a boundary. Pakistan lost three wickets for one run, as Junaid ran through the lower order. Zimbabwe were rolled over with more than seven overs to spare. The lack of a match-turning partnership hurt them in the end.