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5 Apr 2000 (Sean Beynon)

Pakistan win their first encounter

Despite a middle-innings wobble, Pakistan cantered to a five wicket win over Zimbabwe at St John, Antigua. The result means that West Indies have qualified for the best-of-three finals. Zimbabwe's miserable run continues, and it will take a near miracle for them to make it any further in this competition.

Some very ordinary batting from Zimbabwe meant that Pakistan needed just 200 runs to win, and thanks to an Afridi special, the crowd got their money's worth.

Zimbabwe won the toss and batted on a bone-dry pitch. The game was delayed 15 minutes due to a wet outfield, but the covers on the square had undoubtedly done their job. Zimbabwe got off to a measured start, thanks mainly to Grant Flower. Neil Johnson was bought back into the side after his mysterious absence on Sunday. Johnson did not look like a man assured of his place: his feet were not moving, and his bat was beating several times by Waqar Younis and Mohammed Akram.

Still, the singles came fairly easily, but it was not until the tenth over. First Johnson pulled Mohammed Akram for three, then Flower did one better, hitting over the leg side infield for a boundary. Johnson drove through the covers for his first boundary.

Arshad Khan came into the attack in the 14th over. He thought he had Grant Flower caught behind first ball, but the replays showed the ball lobbed from Flower’s pads. Later in the over, Flower advanced down the track, smashing Arshad into the crowd with a big six over mid-off. Flower was looking good, but wasn't to last long. He turned a slower ball from Abdur Razzaq to Younis Khan at mid-wicket. His 36 was an accomplished knock, but he was victim to a plague which seems to affect Zimbabwe batters more than others: playing yourself in, then getting out.

A disappointing Johnson was not long for the crease either. The left hander had a huge, unnecessary swipe at Arshad Khan, and was caught in the infield on the leg-side.

New men Goodwin and Carlisle once more set about a partnership. Carlisle, who has a very open stance, is looking more accomplished every innings. He hits the ball hard, times it well, and is a good runner. Goodwin is the class of the Zimbabwe line-up, compact and attacking. Carlisle swept Arshad for his first boundary, a beautiful shot. He repeated the feat against an inaccurate Shahid, before striking the leg spinner's full toss to the long on boundary.

Mushtaq Ahmed, playing in his first ODI since September immediately troubled the Zimbabwe batsman. He was played with a certain amount of panic, but the next wicket was taken by Shahid. His bowling had been accurate, and there appeared to be runs for the taking, which is perhaps why Goodwin was so disgusted when he skied to the off side infield. Four wickets had fallen in reasonably quick time. All the batsman dismissed had got themselves set: each one got themselves out. It is a problem which plagues Zimbabwe more than most, and they must resolve it quickly if they are to consistently compete at the highest level of cricket.

Dirk Viljoen joined skipper Andrew Flower. A period of consolidation was needed. What followed was calamitous for Zimbabwe. The running between the wickets was poor, and there should have been more run outs, Pakistan were not quite on the button. However, Flower and Viljoen seemed to try their best to give Pakistan a wicket. They did, thanks to some unbelievable calling. Flower turned the ball straight to Younis Khan at short fine leg, and set off. Viljoen was left floundering thanks to an accurate throw. Zimbabwe are not over blessed with talent, so it is criminal for them to give wickets away like that.

Guy Whittall was the new man. The partnership between Flower and Whittall was bizarre. What was needed was consolidation, pushing the singles. What we got was some baffling defence and ungainly swipes. Slowly but surely however, Flower and Whittall put a stand together. It ended thanks to a fine catch by Imran Nazir. Flower was looking toward the boundary as he dispatched another Shahid long-hop, only to discover the ball was caught by Imran. The ball was travelling like a shell, but luckily for Pakistan, the catch stuck.

Heath Streak got off the mark with a cracking square drive, but it was a case of too little too late. Zimbabwe fell away during mid-innings, and it was unrealistic for Streak to play a blinder. He was dropped by Moin, who was having a rotten day, before the keeper got his own back as Streak top-edged a slog from Mohammed Akram, which flew through to Moin over head height.

The last overs were not productive for Zimbabwe. Only a four from Brent could get them to 199 after Whittall lost his leg-stump, and Nkala drove in the air to the off-side sweeper. Pakistan's bowling was good, their fielding lazy. Despite Moin's denials, they seemed jet-lagged and tired. Countless run out chances went array and two catches went down. It is perhaps a suggestion of the gulf between these two sides that such a lazy Pakistan could run all over Zimbabwe.

The spinners bowled particularly well: Arshad, a tall man got real rip from the pitch. Mushtaq was the star, his leggies and googlies confusing everyone, not least Moin, who was having a shocker behind the stumps.

After the first 20 overs of the Pakistan reply, Pakistan were indeed steam-rolling Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe picked up a couple of early wickets, Imran Nazir edged Johnson to Carlisle at slip, whilst Younis Khan was trapped leg before to Streak. For the next hour or so, the sizeable crowd were treated to the Shahid Afridi show. The big-hitting right hander smashed three sixes in his knock of 69. He started swiftly, a neat turn to fine leg got him a boundary. Neil Johnson was the unlucky bowler as he timed his first shot. A short ball was dispatched way over mid-wicket, very nearly out of the ground.

From this onward, anything Zimbabwe threw at Afridi was mere canon fodder. He hit Streak through the off-side for four, then clipped a erstwhile accurate Brent to the ropes. Nkala's first ball to the twenty-year old produced an amazing shot: a flat six over extra cover. Afridi reached his 50 (49 balls) with another six. This one sailed over mid-wicket. The way he plays is so effortless, it is amazing to see how far he can hit a cricket ball.

The spinners rather curtailed Afridi's assault. Some good bowling from Murphy tied him down, until Viljoen turned him back to the pavilion. Shahid came down the pitch, launching the ball high toward long on where Neil Johnson made a fine catch.

At the other end, Inzamam had been pottering serenely. For just one ball, Inzi turned into a madman, rushing down the wicket to Viljoen and depositing him into the stands on the leg side. It was a fine shot, but after this we saw some consolidation. It looked likely that Inzamam and new bat Youhana were content to meander along, having a net and a warm-up ready for the more rigorous tasks ahead. Youhana cut nicely for four, but the pair added just 27 in ten overs. Inzamam lost his head, and was dismissed in the exact same way that Shahid fell, gone for 32.

The big wobble in the Pakistan camp came when Youhana was dismissed. He played the ball to short third man, looked up to see his skipper hurtling down the pitch. Youhana made an attempt to make his ground but in vain, he was run out by a couple of yards.

Abdur Razzaq showed maturity way beyond his 20 years as he guided Pakistan to victory. Razzaq hit the winning runs, advancing down the wicket to Flower, to give Pakistan the win with some time to spare. The pair of Moin and Razzaq had put on 47 runs in a pressure situation, and deserve all the plaudits they get. The Zimbabweans showed a very good fight for ten overs in the match, but they were weak for the remainder. They are simply not good enough. This wasn't a great performance by Pakistan, far from it, but the records show that Pakistan won at a canter.

Sir Vivian Richards was at the ground. Sir Viv, who was named as one of Wisden's five Cricketers of the Century, must have been very disappointed by what he saw. This wasn't a great game: between a poor side and a weary one. One man's innings might mean, however that we'll remember it for a long time to come.