Madhevere blasts unbeaten 70 but Zimbabwe fail to stop Pakistan

Zimbabwe – 156-6 in 50 overs (Wessly Madhevere 70*, Sean Williams 25, Elton Chigumbura 21; Haris Rauf 2/25, Wahab Riaz 2/37, Usman Qadir 1/24). Pakistan – 157-4 in 18.5 overs (Babar Azam 82, Mohammad Hafeez 36, Fakhar Zaman 19; Blessing Muzarabani 2/26, Tendai Chatara 1/25, Richard Ngarava 1/37). Pakistan won by six wickets.

On a day one of Zimbabwe’s stalwarts announced his retirement from international cricket, Wessly Madhevere bolstered his fast-growing reputation as the team’s future mainstay with an unbeaten half-century in the first T20I against Pakistan in Rawalpindi on Saturday.

His 70 not out, an elegant knock that came off 48 balls and included one six and nine fours, lifted the visitors to a total of 156 for six following their wobbly start. Pakistan however chased down the target without much difficulty, with their skipper Babar Azam leading from the front with 82 as they recorded a six-wicket victory.

Batting first after winning the toss, Zimbabwe were rocked right in the opening over as captain Chamu Chibhabha was trapped leg before wicket to depart for a two-ball nought. Brendan Taylor and Sean Williams however steadied the innings with a flurry of boundaries before the former was caught on the square leg boundary for 20, leaving the tourists on 34 for two in the fifth over.

In came Madhevere – who had scored another fifty in the first ODI between the two sides last week – and the up-and-coming 20-year-old all-rounder did not take long to get into the groove with some scintillating cricket that belies his age and experience. Together with Williams, the pair added 36 before the latter was bowled for a 24-ball 25, with four boundaries, pegging Zimbabwe back at 70 for three in the 10th over.

In the next over, Sikandar Raza was not given time to settle as he was quickly sent back to the pavilion for seven, including a boundary, after facing five deliveries. Ryan Burl struggled to find his timing, mustering only eight runs from 15 balls before edging on to his stumps.

Meanwhile, Madhevere had kept the innings moving as he reached his maiden T20I half-century, in only his third match, achieving the milestone off 35 deliveries before celebrating with a pair of fours in the space of three balls.

What followed in the next over was a scene deserving of an audience in the stadium. Indeed, watching the veteran Elton Chigumbura – who had just before the match announced his retirement from international cricket at the end of this series – walk out to join Madhevere at the crease was a sight to behold.

Simply put, it was symbolic: the old guard passing on the mantle to the next generation. Chigumbura, a swashbuckling power-hitter in his heyday who, like Madhevere, held so much promise for Zimbabwe when he made his international bow 16 years ago, turned back the hands of time with a trademark six and two boundaries as he made 21 off 13 balls.

When his cameo ended after he spooned a catch to the man at point off the final delivery of the innings, the veteran had helped push Zimbabwe to 156 for six. Madhevere remained unbeaten on the other end with 70, but the visitors knew they had their work cut out if they were to defend a total that was clearly 20 or so runs short.

Pakistan got their chase off to a strong start, with Babar and Fakhar Zaman (19) sharing a 36-run opening stand before Blessing Muzarabani made the breakthrough when he had the latter top-edging a simple catch to Chigumbura at mid-on. After Richard Ngarava reduced the home side to 62 for two in the eighth over when his superb delivery saw Haider Ali (7) thick-edging to Taylor, who completed the dismissal with a one-handed diving catch behind the stumps, Zimbabwe had to toil until the 17th over to grab another wicket.

By that time, when Tendai Chatara forced the danger man Babar (82) to hole out to Madhevere for a simple catch at deep midwicket, Pakistan had amassed 142 runs, just 15 short of victory with seven wickets in hand. That final stretch was however just long enough to see another wicket falling, as Muzarabani angled in a good-length ball through the gate to bowl Mohammad Hafeez out for 36.

Pakistan wrapped up their six-wicket victory with seven balls to spare. The two sides will clash again at the same venue on Sunday in the second T20I match.