Imam, Azam notch tons as Pakistan clinch series whitewash


Records tumbled as Pakistan smashed Zimbabwe by 131 runs in the fifth and final ODI in Bulawayo to secure a comprehensive series whitewash on Sunday 22 July.

Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam both recorded impressive centuries as Pakistan biffed 364/4 to set up another daunting chase for Zimbabwe, who managed 233/4 in reply. Fakhar Zaman also broke a whole host of One-Day International records, including becoming the quickest in history to reach 1,000 ODI runs.

In the final game of the series, Pakistan opted to bat, sticking to the successful formula of the record-breaking fourth ODI.

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The visitors, who beat Zimbabwe in the first four ODIs in formidable fashion, made three team changes, allowing Mohammad Nawaz a slice of the action – the only bowler yet to play a match in this series – while Mohammad Amir and Hassan Ali returned to replace Faheem Ashraf, Yasir Shah and Usman Khan.

Zimbabwe also made multiple changes. Liam Roche, Christopher Mpofu and Prince Masvaure came into the side, with Blessing Muzarabani, Tendai Chisoro and, surprisingly, Tarisai Musakanda omitted.

Pakistan got off to an unusually quiet start with the first boundary coming off the fifth over, with Chris Mpofu hitting the bat hard and causing Zaman a problem or two.

View image on TwitterBut it wasn’t long until Zaman found his groove and became the quickest man in the history of one-day internationals to reach 1,000 runs, reaching the milestone in just 18 innings – three innings quicker than Viv Richards, Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, Quinton de Kock and Babar Azam, who previously shared the record.
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Imam and Zaman found their feet as the innings progressed, and by the 20th over had dragged Pakistan to 127 without loss. Zaman really started to cut loose but fell for 85 when Liam Roche, the man who got him in the first ODI, found the edge. The opener had scored 455 runs since the last time he was dismissed.

Records tumbled during Zaman’s innings. He broke the record for the most number of runs for Pakistan in a bilateral ODI series (515 runs from five matches at an average of 257.50), surpassing the 451 scored by Salman Butt in 2007-08. He also became the first Pakistani batsman to score 500 runs in a five-match ODI series.

A fantastic achievement, of course, but many of those runs have been plundered against a Zimbabwe side that have not threatened to win a match in this five-match series. Sterner tests are to come for the Pakistan opener, but it’s been a superb introduction to ODI cricket nonetheless.

To top it off, Imam and Zaman have now added 705 runs in this series, with four 100-plus stands. No other pair in history has accomplished this.

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The 168-run opening stand had been terminated but the second-wicket partnership between Imam and Azam also proved fruitful, with the pair helping themselves to centuries apiece. First, Imam recorded his fourth ODI hundred – his third of the series – to continue a fine start to his international career.

In the 35th over, Azam broke the shackles with a majestic six off a floated Roche delivery and never looked back, bashing a scintillating 76-ball 106 not out at a strike-rate a shade under 140.

Iman eventually departed, lbw to Wellington Masakadza, before Shoaib Malik fell in similar fashion off the bowling of Tendai Chatara. Mpofu picked up the wicket of Asif Ali but the damage had already been done, as Pakistan once again powered their way into a commanding position.

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In Zimbabwe’s reply, the first authoritative shot of the innings came off Hamilton Masakadza’s blade in fifth over, as he clipped it exquisitely past square, but the hosts knew it would take something truly special to chase down Pakistan’s target.

Zimbabwe were 59 without loss after 13 overs before Sarfraz Ahmed made a double bowling change with Hassan Ali and Mohammad Nawaz introduced, who both made early inroads.

Firstly, Tinashe Kamunhukamwe (34) tried to pull a Nawaz delivery but mistimed it straight to Imam at midwicket, who completed a good diving catch to put an end to a promising start for Zimbabwe. Then, two balls later, Hassan bowled an absolute peach to dismiss Masakadza, landing it on middle-and-leg before sneaking it just past the Zimbabwe captain’s defence.

Zimbabwe's Hamilton Masakadza strikes the ball to leg in the fifth ODI against Pakistan

The hosts were 108/2 at the mid-innings mark but had only recorded 15 runs in the previous five overs. Prince Masvaure (39) and Ryan Murray (47) soon kicked on, though, but the former fell to Hassan when he attempted to hit one straight over the top, only to find Asif Ali at mid-on.

Murray deployed the slog sweep to Nawaz, who just cleared Zaman in the deep for six, but when he tried to play the same shot the very next ball – this time faster and straighter – he was bowled to make it 166/4.

Entering the final ten overs, the required rate was above 18 runs an over as damage limitations became the name of the game. Rather cheekily, Sarfraz, Pakistan’s skipper and keeper, bowled two overs at the death, conceding 15 runs without a wicket.

Skippers Hamilton Masakadza and Sarfraz Ahmed at the toss

Pakistan have outclassed Zimbabwe in this Test series and will be expecting a sterner challenge when they visit South Africa later this year. Zimbabwe, meanwhile, also travel to South Africa in September and October, and will need to bring their A-game if they are to cause any problems for the hosts.

One positive note for Zimbabwe was that, though none of them recorded a half-century, all their batsmen made starts, proving they have the credentials to succeed at this level.