Thursday Oct 29, 2020
If Covid-19 pandemic has put you to sleep (not literally, God forbid!), no one can blame you. For months there was no cricket and fans were busy dealing with other, far more pressing matters such as breathing, staying alive and generally not dying.
So no one is going to judge the hardcore fan in you if you do not know the finer details of Pakistan cricket team’s first home series of the pandemic, which is against Zimbabwe. The generous digital team at Geo Super is here to save your blushes.
As so clearly mentioned in the headline and intro, the visitors are Fakhar Zaman’s favourite opponents. The Fakhar Zaman joke will be explained later but let’s not digress.
Zimbabwe have been to Pakistan twice since the turn of the millennium. The Africans did not shy from visiting us even when the rest of the cricket world used to quake in their boots at the mere mention of a Pakistan tour. Unlike all others, they braved their shudders, did not screen PCB’s calls and toured the Land of the Pure in 2015.
That one, their 2007-8 tour and then this one means they would have visited Pakistan thrice in 13 years – more than any other nation and for which Pakistan should be grateful.
While they almost always visit us when invited, Zimbabwe - and it is very unfortunate - almost always fail to pose any kind of challenge to our national team. Over the 10 collective matches of their past two tours, they lost nine.
The one they did not lose was because a dust storm, malfunctioning floodlights and then rain all contrived to get the match abandoned. Zimbabwe were 68-0 in 9 overs chasing 297 but you just knew that a collapse was around the corner.
The terms “minnows” has been used so often and for so long for Zimbabwe, it’s almost become their unofficial nickname. But there was still a time when they had plenty of quality players - the Flowers, the Streaks, the Strangs - even if they did not often get the results.
But that short-lived Golden Generation that began in the late 90s and vanished in early 2000s is now an ancient memory. Over the past two decades, the Zimbabwean cricketing system has battled corruption, government interventions, ICC suspensions, payment issues, exodus of players and is now a shadow of its former self. The current generation routinely loses to associate members, fails to qualify for World Cups and is generally a bit rubbish.
In ICC’s ODI rankings, they are 14th – below the likes of Afghanistan, Ireland, the Netherlands and even Oman. In T20Is, too, they are 11th – not good news for Pakistan fans wanting to see competitive cricket.
To make matters worse, Zimbabwe have not been in action since March, when they were in Bangladesh and got whitewashed in both the T20I and ODI series comprehensively.
*Fakhar Zaman starts listening intently*
Pakistan and Fakhar Zaman love Zimbabwe. They are the least low-maintenance side in world cricket and it showed. Once they got a go-ahead from the PCB, they quickly sought permission from the government - a request granted at the speed of light.
An African delegation composed mainly of medical experts did visit Pakistan to 'monitor' the PCB’s ‘bio-secure’ arrangements.
That may sound all serious and stuff but in truth it could very well have been a mere exercise of formality. After all, how concerned could a board that often skips paying its players be about its players’ health?
The squads and Misbah's dilemma:
Initially, Misbah-ul-Haq could not make his mind up whether to stick with tried and trusted Mohammad Hafeezes and Fakhar Zamans that will flatten the poor Chevrons, or experiment with National T20 Cup standouts Abdullah Shafique and Zeeshan Maliks, which leaves the door open for surprises.
Route 1 gets him complete domination, possible world records and job stability. Route 2 runs the risk of an upset defeat, immediate sacking but with the potential of unearthing new options, combinations for the T20 World Cup next year.
The TukTuk tag had us thinking that he’d take the safest option. (Insert Fakhar Zaman joke here).
However, the final squad was surprisingly novice, if not all youthful, but complemented by some extreme experience.
Zimbabwe have named a 20-man squad but considering that that has become the default size of touring parties in Covid times, it won’t be surprising if they trim none.
Here is the 25 in contention for a place on the Pakistan-bound Air Zimbabwe flight:
Faraz Akram, Ryan Burl, Regis Chakabva, Brian Chari, Tendai Chatara, Chamu Chibhabha, Elton Chigumbura, Tendai Chisoro, Craig Ervine, Kyle Jarvis, Luke Jongwe, Tinashe Kamunhukamwe, Wesley Madhevere, Timycen Maruma, Wellington Masakadza, Brandon Mavuta, Peter Moor, Carl Mumba, Richmond Mutumbami, Richard Ngarava, Sikandar Raza, Milton Shumba, Brendan Taylor, Donald Tiripano, Sean Williams
The PCB has gotten a bit lenient recently regarding its Covid-19 protocols, allowing players’ families inside the ‘bio-secure’ bubble created for the National T20 Cup. The same exception, in theory, could have been allowed for a small number of fans but so far there have been no signs that anything of this sort is on the cards or even being discussed.
The Zimbabwe home series will be played behind closed doors, which is a shame because Fakhar Zaman would want the first-ever ODI triple century to be seen and cheered by the fans.
Those who know Fakhar Zaman know how alarming his loss of form and unraveling of technique has been over the past two years. His confidence had been so shot that he failed to do well even in domestic events of standard such as PSL. (The National T20 Cup doesn't count).
However, in the summer of 2018, the lefty from Katlang went on a tear, amassing an eye-watering 515 runs over five matches. His average against his opponents was an unbelievable 257.5.
You know who the opponents were? Zimbabwe!
In the 28 ODIs he's played since then, he's averaged a much more humbling 31.89 - a far, far, far cry from the 257 and change, which is what built his reputation of a flat-track bully. Disappointments in subsequent PSLs but finishing as the highest scorer of the National T20 Cup further cemented that tag.
Hence, all the jokes and the mouth-watering emojis when it got confirmed that Zimbabwe were coming.
30 Oct – 1st ODI, Pindi Cricket Stadium (12pm noon)
1 Nov – 2nd ODI, Pindi Cricket Stadium (12pm noon)
3 Nov – 3rd ODI Pindi Cricket Stadium (12pm noon)
7 Nov – 1st T20I Gaddafi Stadium (3:30pm)
8 Nov – 2nd T20I, Gaddafi Stadium (3:30pm)
10 Nov – 3rd T20I, Gaddafi Stadium (3:30pm)