Pallekele, Mar 15: Riding on the back of the unassuming but still very effective Umar Gul, Pakistan brushed aside Zimbabwe to seal a berth in the knock out stages of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. Umar Gul, who was adjudged the Man of the Match for his match-winning figures of 3/36, bowled much better than what the statiscs show. Asad Shafiq was the other star for Pakistan in the rain-curtailed match.
To the surprise of most, Zimbabwe skipper Elton Chigumbara. who won the toss, opted to bat first on the damp Pallekele pitch. The overcast conditions only assisted in making him rue his decision to bat first.
The two were just settling into a comfortable partnership when a leg spinner from Afridi had Lamb caught and bowled for 16 and the Africans were 84/5 in 23.5 overs. Four overs and 12 runs later, rain stopped play with Ervine not out on 48 and captain Elton Chigumbura keeping him company on 3.
Pakistan opened the bowling with Umar Gul and Abdul Razzaq after having left out the maverick speedster Shoaib Akhtar. Shoaib has so far been a major disappointment for the bowling-heavy Pakistan team.
The start to Zimbabwe's innings was almost typically horrendous. Brendon Taylor struck seamer Abdul Razzaq for a four, but two balls later was caught behind for the same score. In the end of the following over, Umar Gul trapped Regis Chakabva in front for a duck. Then in 6th over, there was more carnage when Gulhad V Sibanda caught at slip for 5.
Craig Ervine and Tatenda Taibu tried to offset some of the pressure by striking two fours each in subsequent overs, but in the 13th over, fast bowler Wahab Riaz had Taibu snapped up by Afridi at mid-off for 19 and Zimbabwe were deeper in trouble at 43/4. Greg Lamb and Ervine brought up Zimbabwe's 50 in the 15th over and pressed ahead.
Zimbabwe were reeling at 157/7 when a second rain interruption brought an early end to the innings. Under the Duckworth-Lewis calculations Pakistan were set a target of 162 in 38 overs.
The start of Pakistan's run chase wasn't impressive enough as the clueless Ahmed Shehzad's disastrous world cup form rolled into this match as well. He overstepped a Ray Price flighted delivery only to miss it and find the bails dislodged by Zibabwe wicket-keeper Tatenda Taibu. The star of Pakistan's 3-2 ODI series victory over New Zealand in the series prior to the world cup has now a highest score of 13 in the tournament.
However, his opening partner Mohammed Hafeez played impressively to steady the innings. He failed to reach his half-century when he was caught by Ray Price of Prosper Utseya's bowling. His 65-ball 49 included six hits to the fence.
Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridi promoted himself to No.4 ahead of Younis Khan to get some valuable batting practice, but had to return early after a Ray Price delivery dislodged his furniture. Afridi could score only 3 runs in his 4-ball innings.
Asad Shadiq who was steady at one-end continued to impress and never for once showed any signs of impatience to hasten the victory on a rain-induced tricky pitch. He had an able partner in the ever-consistent Younis Khan who ensured that the junior partner stays till the end. Shadiq hit seven boundaries in his 97-ball 78 and remained unbeaten as Pakistan comfortably chased down the target.