Pakistan look to improve away record as Zimbabwe seek 2013 encore

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Harare

For the first time since 2017, Zimbabwe have the chance to play Test cricket against a side other than Afghanistan or Bangladesh.

While that might be welcome in itself, the home side showed enough against Pakistan in the shorter formats to aspire to more than just a participation trophy in the upcoming two-match series.

Zimbabwe play this format so exceedingly sparingly against top Test sides it’s difficult to know what to expect, and easy to empathise with a side that gets such few opportunities to make coherent plans across matches, series and seasons.

The last time they played against a top eight side, for instance, came against South Africa in 2017; just two of the 11 who lined up for that game are part of the squad that takes on Pakistan.

But to search for real inspiration against the visitors, the coaching staff might be reminding them of the last time this particular opposition played Test cricket on Zimbabwean soil.

Eight years ago, a Pakistan Test side captained by Misbah-ul-Haq famously fell to a 24-run defeat in Harare, allowing the hosts to square the series; arguably their most impressive Test achievement in the past two decades.

Only one player from each side who played that Test will feature again in Harare on Thursday (Brendan Taylor and Azhar Ali), but there is little doubt the discussions in the Zimbabwean dressing room will repeatedly revert back to that afternoon as a reminder this side doesn’t intend to merely make up the numbers.

Pakistan, meanwhile, are in the odd position of having won all three white-ball series on this tour of South Africa and Zimbabwe without managing to appease nearly any of their fan base.

Misbah, intent on shutting out that fateful 2013 Test from his memory, will be aware of the lose-lose situation this series throws up for Pakistan.

Anything besides two resounding victories will be looked upon as failure, even if the Pakistan head coach has the experience and wisdom to know away Test wins can never quite be taken for granted.

Pakistan’s mid-table ranking in this format is well earned; under the current coaching set-up, they continue to win games against opposition they might be expected to beat – especially at home – without seriously challenging the top sides away.

Pakistan’s away record has been especially miserable over the past three years, with nine losses in the past eleven Tests and no wins; the two draws came in rain-affected games against England last summer.

This series represents a golden opportunity to reverse that trend. This Pakistan Test side may be a flawed one – a fact that won’t change regardless of this series’ outcome – but they will feel they possess the quality to do something they haven’t since West Indies in 2017: return home with a Test series trophy in their luggage.

Regis Chakabva scored a match-winning 164 for the Eagles in the Logan Cup earlier this month, but evidence of an ability to translate that domestic prowess into international prolificacy has been scant.

It was a similar case in the T20s, where strong showings in the domestic cup were followed by 21 runs across three innings against Pakistan.

In Test cricket, the wicketkeeper has managed just one half-century in his last 21 innings, and at 33, will be acutely aware his chances in future might be numbered.

In the first T20 in particular, his wicketkeeping left something to be desired, and with Brendan Taylor also part of the side, it’s unlikely he will feel no pressure on his place.—Agencies

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