Pakistan September 5; All through this Test match, there’s been a wait for Zimbabwe’s inexperienced team to falter. Sure they bowled well when the pitch was fresh in the first session of the game, but could they do it when the track eased up? They did. Sure they bowled well on the first day, but could their brittle batting stand up to Pakistan’s highly rated bowling? They did.
The third day was supposed to be the best day for batting in Harare; would their new-look bowling be able to do the job? They’ve certainly started well, bagging three early wickets to consolidate on the 78-run advantage they had after the first innings.
The major obstacle Zimbabwe faced on the third day was the experienced pair of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, who with some old-fashioned Test batting helped Pakistan erase the deficit. There has been a clamour in Pakistan for inducting more youngsters in the team, but it was Pakistan’s two oldest batsmen who revived the side from a precarious 23 for 3.
As in the first innings, Zimbabwe’s bowlers produced the early breakthroughs not with magic deliveries but by sticking to the basics of line and length. They still got the ball to curl around a little, but there wasn’t any dramatic movement. The sixth over of the innings, bowled by Tinashe Panyangara, which produced the wicket of Khurram Manzoor showcased their method of operation – pitching the ball up and constantly attacking the stumps, making the batsman play. With several deliveries swerving away in the over, Manzoor decided to shoulder arms to one, which turned out to be a straight ball that thudded into his pads. It looked a touch high but the umpire thought otherwise, and for the second time in the game, Manzoor’s innings ended early through a tough decision.
Azhar Ali, who played a vital role in rescuing Pakistan after their top-order failed in the first innings, couldn’t do the job this time, as the accurate Panyangara had him trapped lbw for a duck. Neither of the opening bowlers provided any cheap runs, and Panyangara’s figures read 7-4-6-2 at one stage.
Mohammad Hafeez has had a forgettable 2013 in Tests, and could have added a golden duck to his string of low scores this year, but his first-ball edge landed short of slips. He didn’t last too long anyway, falling tamely after driving a low catch to short cover. His dismissal for 16 left him with a paltry 64 runs in eight innings this year.
That brought together Younis and Misbah, both of whom grafted for much of the second session. They were initially more concerned with preserving their wickets than with piling on the runs, steadfastly defending everything to thwart Zimbabwe’s bowlers. Both Misbah and Younis have built their reputation as firefighters, regularly producing their best efforts when the top order had combusted. Their 64-run stand has now neutralised Zimbabwe’s bowlers for 24 overs, and the old doubts over whether Zimbabwe can sustain their challenge can’t be far from resurfacing.
Zimbabwe’s resolve was certainly strong in the morning session, when Elton Chigumbura eased to his third half-century to fatten the slender overnight lead. It was an important innings not just in the context of the match but also for Chigumbura, on whom the pressure to deliver runs has increased in recent times as his bowling has faded.
The lower-order assisted him admirably, as they kept out Pakistan for over an hour, before Saeed Ajmal’s variations proved too much for them. Ajmal wiped out the final three wickets to end up with a seven-for, the second of his career.
Tea Pakistan 249 and 87 for 3 (Misbah 37*, Younis 29*) lead Zimbabwe 327 (Waller 70, Chigumbura 69, Raza 60, Ajmal 7-95) by 9 runs