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Thursday Apr 29 2021

Pak vs Zim: Openers give Pakistan good start after Hasan, Shaheen's heroics

Shaheen Shah Afridi celebrates after taking a wicket on the opening day of the first Test in Harare against Zimbabwe. – Twitter

Pakistani Pacers Shaheen Afridi and Hasan Ali took four wickets each, helping the Men In Green to seize control of the first Test against Zimbabwe on the opening day at the Harare Sports Club on Thursday.

The pair helped the tourists dismiss their hosts for 176 in the first innings, before Pakistan reached 103 without the loss of a wicket in reply at the close to trail by 73 runs in the first game of the two-match series.

Openers Abid Ali (56 not out) and Imran Butt (43 not out) looked assured on a placid wicket and will seek to give their side a big first-innings lead when play resumes on the second day.

Zimbabwe won the toss and elected to bat, handing debuts to seamer Richard Ngarava, and middle-order batsmen Roy Kaia and Milton Shumba.

Pakistan selected unorthodox off-spinner Sajid Khan for his first test cap, though he went wicketless through the first innings.

Zimbabwe were teetering at 30 for four after an early blitz with the new ball from Shaheen (4-43) and Hasan (4-53), but a 59-run stand for the fifth wicket between innings top scorer Kaia (48) and Shumba (27) steadied the home side.

It was broken by a needless run out of the latter and Zimbabwe lost wickets at steady intervals thereafter.

The teams are meeting in tests for the first time since 2013, when Zimbabwe claimed the last of their three wins in 17 previous clashes. Pakistan have 10 victories. 

On Wednesday, Babar Azam said the green shirts were not looking towards any major changes and would most likely go with the same squad that comprehensively defeated South Africa 2-0 in the Test series at home. 

This means the only change will be that of Yasir Shah, who is not part of the touring Test squad. Leg-spinner Zahid Mehmood or off-spinner Sajjid Khan could easily fill in the vacant space available.

“We are in no mood to make any unnecessary changes in the team. We are planning to have one odd change in the team for the Test series opener and more interested in retaining the winning combination,” Babar said in a virtual media talk.

Zimbabwe pulled a big surprise last time both countries were seen playing the Test series in 2013, winning the opening Test and then conceding the second to draw it 1-1. The venue was the same where the Test series now will be held.

Azam expressed high hopes from the team that beat South Africa a few months ago, saying that Hassan Ali was at his best when he played against the Proteas in the last Test match, winning the Player of the Match award. 

"His reentry into the Test team has given the team a fresh impetus. Hopefully, he would carry forward with the same vein during the forthcoming series," said the Pakistani batsman. 

He said left-arm pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi will be in form after having plenty of rest while all-rounder Faheem Ashraf had shown impressive skills in being a formidable Test batsman and someone who could also come in handy with the ball. 

Babar said he was expecting a better playing surface during the Tests. “The Harare pitch prepared for the first Test gives a better look. There is a bit of grass on the surface and even the pitch looks firm and suitable for Test cricket. Let’s see how it will behave during the Test," he said. 

Azam said he wasn't worried about the team's batting, saying that Azhar Ali and Fawad Alam added depth to Pakistan's line up with their rich experience. 

"They have contributed in the past and hopefully would continue backing me and Rizwan in our efforts to raise or chase good totals in Test cricket. I hope openers Abid Ali and Imran Butt would also grasp opportunities coming their way. What I want from my players is to take up the challenge and stay there till the time they achieve that," he said. 

Nevertheless, Azam made it clear Pakistan was not taking Zimbabwe lightly, adding that the home side knows its conditions  better than the other side. 


Pakistan: Imran Butt, Abid Ali, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam (c), Fawad Alam, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Faheem Ashraf, Noman Ali, Hasan Ali, Sajid Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi.