Zimbabwe go down tamely

Pakistan won the third game of the Sharjah tournament by 93 runs -- a margin nobody would have expected. A total of 187 was not much but given the slow nature of the tract and the fact that Pakistan had three full-time spinners in their ranks, it was not going to be easy for Zimbabwe. This track was the same one on which the first game was played and while it did not help the bowlers, it was slow.

Zimbabwe did everything right until they lost their first wicket. After that it was Pakistan all the way. There was the unnecessary appearance of Brandes as a pinch-hitter and this failed. Only Andy Flower played somewhat sensibly and remained unbeaten with 21 at the end. Zimbabwe were not helped by the fact that four of their batsmen ran themselves out. A lot of the panic in their ranks was needless and the fact that they lasted just 31.4 overs tells its own tale.

One thing which may have been at the back of the Zimbabweans' mind is the fact that Pakistan have a reputation for defending small totals. They did so in the final of the three-nation World Series Cup in Australia this year when they defended 163 against the West Indies. But to a large extent Zimbabwe were done in by their own inexperience; the openers batted sensibly but once they both seemed to have things under control, they let it slip for no good reason. Once the advantage had been grabbed by Pakistan, they were never going to yield again. Zimbabwe are unlikely to get another chance like this again.

But the victors have their problems; their batting was far from convincing and the lack of a settled pair of openers is putting a strain on the one- and two-drop batsmen. Inzamam hit two towering sixes in his 46 but he seems to be a shadow of the man who won the semi-final of the 1992 Cup for Pakistan. He could do with a little less weight and seems to have lost a lot of the dash which he had. Neither Rameez nor Malik were convincing either; Mohammed Wasim played some lovely shots in his 27 and it may be time for Pakistan to blood some new batsmen. They have been producing bowlers like rabbits out of a hat but the batting is still dependent on the old warhorses.

In one way, it was just as well that Pakistan won. The allegations of bribery that are hanging over some members of the team would only have increased had they lost; the defeat against Lanka in the second match of the tournament has already led to one former councillor of the Pakistan board levelling charges that the match was fixed. Razaullah Khan, in a Press statement, claimed that "the way the batsmen threw their wickets away clearly showed that it had been decided that Sri Lanka have to win this game".

Khan pointed to last year's Sharjah Cup and said that India had lost the first game and then won the cup. " Pakistan have lost their first game because they know the final slot is under the cap because Zimbabwe is the third team. I can put anything I have on Pakistan's win in the final." He claimed that after the loss to Lanka, the odds would change and would, in the end, help the bookies and players who would back Pakistan to win.

Not content with this, Khan went further and accused the board of promoting betting and match-fixing instead of curbing it. "The three players who called for a clean-up have been sidelined," he said. "Those three are good enough to walk into the game any time. The cricket administrators turned a deaf ear when Rashid Latif and Basit Ali made similar accusations (to those made by Aamer Sohail recently) two years ago. They are doing the same this time." Khan has also called for an inquiry into the charges of match-fixing made by Sohail.

On the other hand, the victory by a margin like this over Zimbabwe could also strengthen Razaullah Khan's case: he could well argue that if Pakistan could win so easily over Zimbabwe then they could definitely have overcome Lanka who were taken a little more distance by the Zimbabweans. Either way, this team is going to be under pressure throughout the tournament. Strangely, there has been no talk of match-fixing and its like during the tournament so far.