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Fakhar Zaman 117* as Pakistan cruise to big win

It might be possible Pakistan don't even remember playing this game, so perfunctory was their nine-wicket win. Had their minds been completely preoccupied by other concerns - the upcoming Asia Cup, the series against Australia and New Zealand after that, or where they were going to go on holiday - the result of this game was never going to be any different. They bowled brilliantly, batted superbly, but in truth, never got out of second gear. Simply because they didn't need to.

Fakhar Zaman will have tougher times getting off the mark in some games than he did in coasting, waltzing, sleepwalking to a hundred today. Imam-ul-Haq, for want of something else to do, decided to hang around and give him company; after all, the sun was out and it was a cold day, so why not spend some time in the middle? Babar Azam, who came in after Imam was run out (there was no way in the world Zimbabwe were getting a wicket any other way) looked as good as new since coming back from his arm fracture. In truth, he could have played with that arm in a sling and still stayed around to knock off the winning runs. It took Pakistan just over 35 overs to chase the sub-200 total Zimbabwe had set them in a performance every bit as dominant as the 201-run win on Friday.

Zimbabwe's bowlers looked completely toothless in attack, fast bowlers and spinners alike reduced to going through the motions against a Pakistan top order that was simply in a different league. blessing Muzarabani, as he often does, still stood out, and could even have had Zaman very late on, only for short fine leg to put an easy chance down. Wellington Masakadza was disciplined with his line, while teenager Liam Roche was on the receiving end of an experience one hopes he learns from rather than ends up being scarred by. The game ended with a tame wide down leg side, Zimbabwe undoubtedly more relieved than Pakistan to get off the pitch.

There is absolutely no disgrace to the hosts here though. Many believed it was Pakistan who would play these games with a second string team and still be too good for Zimbabwe's best side. Instead, Pakistan played their best eleven, while Zimbabwe have as many as eight first-choice players unavailable - Malcom Waller being the latest to depart. Zimbabwe's second team has played these two games, and thus no one need be surprised by either the result.

After all, when Donald Tiripano comes in to bat at No. 7, the indication that the talent pool is drying up isn't all that subtle. This Zimbabwean side is stretched to their limit by the absences in their squad - which seem to be mounting by the match - but cobbled together a gritty innings, setting Pakistan 195 to win. It was woefully below par, but really, what more could they have done?

On a bitterly cold day in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe decided to bat first, but found themselves on the back foot instantly, mustering just three runs and losing a wicket in the first four overs, the ever-impressive Usman Khan doing Brian Chari in with an outswinging delivery he edged behind. Fellow opener Chamu Chibhabha also fell to him, attempting to cut a ball too close to his body and under-edging to the keeper.

With the dismally out-of-form skipper Masakadza lumbering up to the crease, it looked like a grey day for Zimbabwe in more ways than one. But with Tarisai Musakanda, he put together a partnership that heralded the brightest phase of play in the entire match, with the pair picking up the pace and forcing Pakistan onto the back foot for the best part of an hour.

Masakadza was particularly effective, not looking slow with his footwork as he has for much of the past two weeks, getting to the pitch of the ball and finding the middle consistently. Zimbabwe began to rotate the strike regularly and find the boundary often enough, pushing the run rate up from under 3 to over 4 runs per over. But they needed to kick on and convert the stand into one that shaped the entire innings, and that is exactly what Zimbabwe just weren't good enough to do.

Musakanda was unluckily adjudged lbw, the delivery from Hasan Ali looked like it would have gone on to miss leg stump. And it was a decision that shaped the rest of the Zimbabwean innings, with the hosts losing momentum rapidly. Only 27 runs came off the next nine overs as debutant Ryan Murray took time to find his feet and the pressure mounted on Masakadza, who had brought up his 34th ODI fifty. He couldn't quite rotate the strike as freely as he did with Musakanda, and even though he did shuffle across his crease to smash a six over square leg, the next aerial shot he attempted found the deep midwicket fielder.

Peter Moor and Murray hung around to add a few more runs, though Zimbabwe simply didn't have the resources to pick up the pace of the innings in the last few overs. As soon as Hasan ripped through Murray and knocked his stumps back, Pakistan were effectively into the tail. It showed, too, with Tiripano unable to defend an Usman yorker that uprooted his middle stump, and Roche found himself trapped plumb in front next delivery.

Twenty-four-year-old Usman still doesn't seem to get as many starts, particularly in ODI cricket, as his talent merits; he would be a regular starter in almost any other team in the world. It's easy to forget this is only his fourth ODI, but the second time he's picked up four or more wickets. He averages under 11 with an economy rate under 5, and on the evidence of his recent performances, he shouldn't need to be worrying about nailing a place in the starting 11.

Peter Moor hung around to score a half-century, and if that does his morale any good, then all power to him. But with a Zimbabwean side as under-resourced, understaffed, underpaid as this one, you would understand if the rest of his teammates are feeling a little under the weather by now. Three more games to go, and no one will count them down as eagerly as everyone who feels any affection for Zimbabwean cricket.