Player of the Match
Player of the Match

Iftikhar Ahmed, Babar Azam script series win for Pakistan

Iftikhar Ahmed celebrates after dismissing Tendai Chisoro Getty Images

Pakistan 208 for 4 (Babar Azam 77*, Imam-ul-Haq 49, Tendai Chisoro 2-49) beat Zimbabwe 206 (Sean Williams 75, Iftikhar Ahmed 5-40, Muhammad Musa 2-21) by six wickets

Iftikhar Ahmed's maiden ODI five-wicket haul set up Pakistan's six-wicket win in the second game against Zimbabwe in Rawalpindi on Sunday, with Babar Azam providing the finishing touches in a small but tricky chase. That sealed the series 2-0 with one to play, and gave Pakistan their eighth ODI win in a row.

After Zimbabwe were bowled out for 206 - despite a fighting 70-ball 75 from Sean Williams - Pakistan made relatively short work of the chase, thanks chiefly to an elegant unbeaten 77 from Azam. There was almost no drama in the game, a borderline farcical decision from third umpire Ahsan Raza excepted, and the captain's 16th half-century did the job for them.

Zimbabwe's only hope of making the game interesting was to pick up early wickets, but Imam-ul-Haq and Abid Ali had other ideas. They settled in quickly and, in a marked contrast to their soporific approach in the first ODI, showed much more positive intent as the scoring rate pushed past a run-a-ball. The two of them found the gaps with regularity early on, while the Zimbabwe new-ball bowlers - Richard Ngarava, Carl Mumba and Blessing Muzarabani - didn't carry nearly as much threat as Pakistan's quicks did, and in their search for breakthroughs, their discipline faltered.

Tendai Chisoro, who found good turn, brought them hope with a couple of quick wickets, but with the asking rate never going above four, pressure didn't seem to build up. The debutant Haider Ali freed his arms after being let off by wicketkeeper Brendan Taylor, a couple of sixes in a delightful little cameo highlighting his potential for Pakistan. He was most unfortunate to fall the way he did, given out lbw on the field and, somewhat ludicrously, not reprieved by third umpire Raza despite a clear deflection from the glove because Ultra Edge didn't seem to spike the way it should have.

That minor irritant aside, Pakistan were never in any danger of fluffing their lines. Azam's touch was supreme, and he milked the spinners with consummate ease, while periodically using his feet to attack and find the boundaries. When he brought up his half-century, it was more of an inevitability than an occasion, and to Pakistan's relief, his form in the format that propelled him to stardom seems to be exactly where it was pre-shutdown.

But it was the first half when the match was well and truly decided. Despite an attack brimming over with young, promising quicks, it was part-time offspinner Ahmed, who struck the most telling blows, skittling Zimbabwe for 206 in 45.1 overs with returns of 5 for 40.

Zimbabwe looked like they had a solid platform as well as momentum on their side when Brendan Taylor and Williams, whose 75 was chiefly responsible for beefing up the total, took their side to 120 for 3 with a 61-run partnership at better than a run-a-ball. But when Ahmed got Taylor to hole out to deep square-leg, the floodgates opened. He ripped through the rest of the middle order, leaving Zimbabwe in tatters.

The visitors had luck going their way when they won the toss, affording them the opportunity to bat first on a fresh strip that didn't nearly have as much grass as the one used on Friday. But the opening pair continued to present a problem for Zimbabwe, as Brian Chari as Chamu Chibhabha struggled to handle the sort of pace Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf and Muhammad Musa generated - it's hard to imagine that they need to contend with the same sort of speed back home. Chibhabha nicked off a rising delivery from Rauf that found a home in Mohammad Rizwan's gloves, and Craig Ervine became Musa's first ODI wicket, beaten by the pace as he chopped on. The runs were laboured and the wickets regular, and when Haider Ali held on to a top edge from Chari, it was left to Taylor and Williams to pick up the pieces.

What followed was the best passage of play for Zimbabwe. Williams looked a different man to the one that looked so out of nick on Friday, counter-attacking right from the outset. Taylor smacked Imad Wasim for a six in his first over, and Williams followed up three balls later. The run rate began to pick up, and the benign nature of the surface became apparent. There was little spin in the wicket, and as such, no defence when Williams and Taylor used their feet to keep the strike ticking over.

All that optimism, however, came crashing down rather suddenly, when Taylor couldn't quite get underneath a pull shot, and instead of clearing the square-leg boundary, found Imam-ul-Haq, stationed just inside. Ahmed would strike again two overs later, lulling Wesley Madhevere into driving on the up down the ground as substitute fielder Fakhar Zaman completed a smart diving catch. Sikandar Raza's soft dismissal - a bunt back to Ahmed - meant Williams was suddenly running out of partners, and when the seventh fell, he went on the offensive once more. The 50 was brought up in just 48 balls, and he struck Musa and Ahmed for successive boundaries and moved along to 75 as Zimbabwe made a final push towards 200. That was as far as it got for Williams, though, as he became Ahmed's fifth wicket, guiding the ball straight to long-off to leave his side eight down, still 29 runs shy of the 200 mark.

There was frustration for Afridi, who tried desperately not to end wicketless, but despite consistently beating the tail-enders, couldn't quite get one of his yorkers to hit the stumps. It wasn't much bother for Pakistan, though, who found wickets from the other end as Zimbabwe folded without fuss.

It was all pretty straightforward for Pakistan, and, when Azam hit a six down the ground to seal the victory, it was simply an exclamation mark placed at the end of a no-nonsense Pakistani performance.

Pakistan 2nd innings Partnerships

1st68Abid AliImam-ul-Haq
2nd32Babar AzamImam-ul-Haq
3rd37Babar AzamHaider Ali
4th25Mohammad RizwanBabar Azam
5th46Babar AzamIftikhar Ahmed