Test cricket is perhaps the format where Pakistan’s progress is most discernible. There is a stability about the side which is lacking in the other formats, with the results beginning to show something of an uptick of late. Performances against Zimbabwe may not appease the critics but remain vital, because an upset would undo much of the good work of recent times, something that should be front and centre across the visitors’ minds especially after the last time Pakistan played a series in Zimbabwe.
Having won the first match convincingly, they succumbed to a chastening 24-run loss in the second in 2013. They will need to ensure this series doesn’t follow a similar pattern, especially after a disappointing T20I leg, where they scraped to two victories sandwiched by an embarrassing defeat in which they were skittled out for 99.
Zimbabwe are severely handicapped this time around by the loss of several experienced middle order hands due to various reasons, with Craig Ervine, Sean Williams and Sikandar Raza all ruled out. The batters did put up some resistance in the first Test, albeit not nearly enough. Roy Kaia and Milton Shumba had a spirited 59-run fifth-wicket stand after Zimbabwe found themselves in trouble early, and a useful opening stand between Kevin Kasuza and Tarisai Musakanda saw off the new ball in the second innings. The bowlers took wickets at regular intervals to prevent Pakistan getting away too far.
Pakistan carry a big bench and are in a position to hand out another debut after Sajid Khan played his first match in the previous Test, with Tabish Khan the likely beneficiary. That will see Faheem Ashraf sit out, depriving the side of a player who offered the best chance of a balance between batters and bowlers, especially with his runs lower down the order. But every performance here will matter for future Test series; Pakistan’s next engagement is in the West Indies in August, and individual performances here will go a long way towards selection then. Both openers – Imran Butt and Abid Ali – were on shaky ground, but runs in the opening Test look to have bought them some time.
Zimbabwe, meanwhile, cannot afford the luxury of looking ahead too far, but they do have a calendar that sees activity beyond this second Test. Bangladesh will be arriving for a full series shortly, and any momentum gleaned here will be useful if carried through to that series. For that, they will have to summon the spirit and quality from the T20Is, and put the first Test behind them.
(Last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Blessing Muzarabani continues to look the home side’s most potent strike bowler, backing up his credentials with a respectable performance in an otherwise disappointing show for his side. It was his wickets towards the end of the second day and on the morning of the third that guaranteed Pakistan would be bowled out instead of having the luxury of declaring, even finding himself on a hat-trick at one point. His figures of 4 for 73 represent a continuing ascent in the lanky fast bowler’s career, but what his side will need are strikes with the new ball as well as the old one. Should he be able to put two openers still struggling for form under pressure, Zimbabwe might have a chance of making a contest out of this.
Babar Azam missed out against what at times appeared to be a Zimbabwe attack bereft of ideas, registering the only golden duck of his Test career in the first game. With the Pakistan captain in the form of his life, lightning is unlikely to strike twice this series. The first Test was an aberration in that respect, and the home side may find they have one additional problem to worry about in the second game.
Prince Masvaure is unlikely to feature following the hand injury he sustained in the first Test, while Sean Williams and Craig Ervine remain ruled out. Wesley Madhevere looks set to play after missing out in the first Test.
Zimbabwe (possible): 1 Roy Kaia, 2 Kevin Kasuza, 3 Brendan Taylor (capt), 4 Tarisai Musakanda, 5Wesley Madhevere, 6 Regis Chakabva (wk), 7 Luke Jongwe, 8 Wellington Masakadza, 9 Donald Tiripano, 10 Blessing Muzarabani, 11 Victor Nyauchi
No significant changes are expected for Pakistan, with Sajid likely to play despite an indifferent debut. Tabish appears to be in the mix, and should he play, Ashraf would be the man to sit out.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Imran Butt, 2 Abid Ali, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Babar Azam (capt), 5 Fawad Alam, 6 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 7 Hasan Ali, 8 Tabish Khan, 9 Sajid Khan, 10 Nauman Ali, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi
Pitch and conditions
The weather for the next seven days will be cool with plenty of sunshine. The surface in the first Test played slow, and this one is expected to be no different.
Stats that matter
- Fawad Alam has converted each of his first four half centuries into triple figures, one of only six players in Tests to have done so.
- Zimbabwe have only three players with more than ten Test matches under their belt: Brendan Taylor, Regis Chakabva and Donald Tiripano.
- Azam is the first Pakistan captain to lead his side to victory in his first three Tests.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent