Muzarabani leads Zimbabwe fightback to keep Pakistan in check

Pakistan – 268-4 in 90 overs (Azhar Ali 126, Abid Ali 118*, Fawad Alam 5; Blessing Muzarabani 3/41, Richard Ngarava 1/35). Zimbabwe- Yet To Bat. Day 1 – Stumps

A brilliant spell of pace bowling by Blessing Muzarabani turned around what had looked like going down as a miserable first day’s play for Zimbabwe in the second Test match against Pakistan at Harare Sports Club today.

Pakistan were cruising along at 244 for one wicket, with two batsmen still there with centuries, when Zimbabwe’s stand-in captain, Brendan Taylor, decided to take the second new ball immediately it became available, which proved to be a wise decision.

Supported well by Richard Ngarava, Muzarabani bowled with superb pace and lift, taking three wickets in half an hour to reduce Pakistan to 268 for four at the close. This is still a good score for them, but the vital wickets allowed Zimbabwe to finish the day with enthusiasm, relief and hope with which to face tomorrow.

For Pakistan, Azhar Ali scored 126, while Abid Ali survived the day with 118. Pakistan won the toss and decided to bat, an option Taylor would have liked to take. Muzarabani and Ngarava again opened the bowling to Imran Butt and Abid Ali.

Both bowlers began with good maiden overs, and Pakistan did not score their first run until the 15th ball. The score was only 12 after seven overs, with both bowlers doing a fine job.

At this point Ngarava bowled a short ball that Butt, perhaps too eager to get the score moving with only two singles to his credit, tried to pull, but was too late on his stroke – he lobbed the ball up towards midwicket and Donald Tiripano ran round from square leg to hold the catch.

After 11 overs, Luke Jongwe – making his Test debut after coming in as the only change for the injured Prince Masvaure – and Tiripano took over, and also did a fine job, giving Abid and Azhar Ali very little to score from. When drinks were taken after 14 overs only 24 runs had been scored.

Afterwards the batsmen began to look for runs with more determination, and when Tendai Chisoro came on Abid Ali hit him for two fours in his first over. However, Chisoro was quickly back to his miserly self, with only two runs coming off his next four overs.

Lunch came with Pakistan on 72 for one wicket – Abid had 34 and Azhar 31. After lunch Abid decided to take the attack to Chisoro again, hitting him for two fours in an over.

Azhar preferred to play safe against Chisoro, but Abid then turned his attention to Tiripano, hitting him also for two fours in an over to reach his fifty off 101 balls. As the century partnership was recorded the batsmen were scoring fairly comfortably against all the support bowlers.

Muzarabani and Ngarava still commanded respect, but when they were resting the other bowlers were not accurate or threatening enough, or able to bowl consistently to a plan. Zimbabwe suffered yet another injury with the score on 159, as Abid pulled a ball from Chisoro right into the inside of Roy Kaia’s left knee, and he had to be stretchered off the field – it remains to be seen whether he will be fit to bat.

Shortly afterwards the players took tea with Pakistan on 166 for one wicket, Abid on 80 and Azhar 76. Azhar was the first to his century, cutting a short, wide ball from Chisoro to third man for four to reach his 18th Test hundred off 198 balls.

Abid was on 94 when Milton Shumba was put on to bowl – his first ball turned, and the batsman edged an awkward chance to the wicket-keeper Regis Chakabva, who could not hold it. While Abid struggled, Azhar played with increased freedom and hit Shumba for a straight six.

After showing great care in the nineties, Abid finally reached his third Test century off 224 balls, also with a cut off Chisoro, who had been unable to maintain his early pinpoint accuracy. After 80 overs Pakistan were 244 for one, and Zimbabwe took the second new ball as soon as it was available.

Muzarabani’s second over with it did the trick for Zimbabwe. He bowled some testing deliveries, and then, as Azhar tried to drive, the ball took a thick edge and he gave a low catch to Shumba in the gully.

Azhar had played a fine innings of 126 off 240 balls, with 17 fours and a six; Pakistan were now 248 for two wickets as the captain Babar Azam came out to bat. Azam, out first ball in the first Test, only scored two this time, as Muzarabani produced another fine delivery that tempted him to drive, but he sliced a catch to Kevin Kasuza at cover point; 252 for three.

Fawad Alam was fortunate to survive his first ball, as he tried to fend off a lifter from Muzarabani that could easily have gone up for a catch. He did not last long, though, as with five runs to his credit he played an indeterminate shot to another short ball from Muzarabani and played it on to his stumps; 264 for four.

Sajid Khan came in as night-watchman and survived to the close with a single. Abid batted through the day for 118 not out, a fine innings, and the total at the close was 268 for four wickets, but the last hour belonged to Muzarabani.