Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Aug 31: Coach Waqar Younis takes charge for his last series as Pakistan aims to blood young players in a one-off test against a buoyant Zimbabwe, which recently overcame its own inexperience to make a winning return to the five-day game.
Waqar has already resigned, but agreed to stay on for the test beginning Thursday, three one-day internationals and two Twenty20 games in Zimbabwe, Pakistan's first tour here for nine years.
The former fast bowler's departure is the latest of regular upheavals for Pakistan since a spot-fixing controversy in England a year ago. Expected to win, Pakistan's real test in Zimbabwe will be to finally find some unity and stability.
It could try out inexperienced batsman Rameez Raja and bowlers Yasir Shah, Sohail Khan, Junaid Khan and Aizaz Cheema alongside the experience of captain Misbah-ul-Haq,
Younis Khan, Saeed Ajmal and recalled former test skipper Shoaib Malik—who traveled with the squad after being cleared of financial misconduct. Bowlers Umar Gul, Wahib Riaz and Abdur Rehman were all rested.
Zimbabwe has had its own problems and was out of tests for six years following a player-board dispute which brought the game in the troubled African country to its knees.
But the Zimbabweans returned to beat Bangladesh in a test and five-match one-day series in August and, although inexperienced, displayed the team spirit and togetherness that Pakistan longs for. In new captain Brendan Taylor and young left-arm seamer Brian Vitori they also have batting and bowling promise.
“I think it is going to be a slight step-up (from Bangladesh),” Taylor told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “I understand they (Pakistan) have left (out) two to three of their best players. But they do have good balance of experience and youth.
“They are going to be tough opposition. But we've been playing some good cricket of late and there is no reason why we can't put up a good result.”
Among Pakistan's problems was the international retirement this year of one-day captain Shahid Afridi, who said he could no longer work with the management after a run-in with Waqar. Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Amir and Salman Butt remain suspended for their roles in spot-fixing.
But through it all Pakistan reached the semifinals of the World Cup, losing to eventual champion India, and is unbeaten in its last three test series: drawing with South Africa, beating New Zealand and drawing in the West Indies. It has won its last three one-day series.
With a spine of experience in batsmen Misbah, Younis, Shoaib and Umar Akmal and spin bowler Ajmal, Pakistan is favorite in the test, ODIs and T20s, which are spread between the southern city of Bulawayo and the capital Harare.
Wicketkeeper Adnan Akmal is the third Akmal brother to play international cricket for Pakistan, while Azhar Ali and the uncapped Rameez hope to force their way into a relatively strong batting lineup.
The biggest changes and the biggest challenge for Pakistan comes in the bowling where legspinner Yasir and seamers Junaid and Cheema are all uncapped at test level and Sohail has played just one test.
Up against them is a revived Zimbabwe team that beat Bangladesh by 130 runs for their first test win in seven years and then swept to a 3-0 lead in the ODI series before losing the last two games.
Hamilton Masakadza and Taylor both made centuries in the test, but the bowling of the 21-year-old Vitori was the spark for the Zimbabweans.
Vitori shared 10 wickets with fellow seamer Kyle Jarvis on their test debuts, then took five wickets in each of his first two ODIs to set a new world record for the best-ever start by a bowler in one-day internationals.
He finished with 11 wickets in three matches in the ODI series and was the top bowler on the tour in his first outing in international cricket.
“If they stick to the way they bowled against Bangladesh, they will enjoy some success,” Taylor said of his promising pace pair. “The wicket is going to be hard to bowl on ... but they will be key for us.” AP