Harare: A middle-order slump from Zimbabwe and a committed effort from Pakistan in the field saw them complete their whitewash of the hosts in the ODI series with a testing but ultimately comfortable victory in the third and final game. On a batsmen-friendly pitch, Pakistan finished with a par score that still proved too much for Zimbabwe, who gave themselves a chance to win the game with a big opening partnership, but could not finish the job.
Pakistan were aggressive at crucial times with both bat and ball and showed the value of experience against a Zimbabwe line-up that is still finding its feet at the highest level. Younus Khan's beautifully crafted 81 and Aizaz Cheema's four wickets headlined their performance but Zimbabwe can take heart from the fight they showed, minimising the damage after Pakitsan got off to a rollicking start and scoring over 240 against a top-level team.
Zimbabwe's openers, Vusi Sibanda and Chamu Chibhabha, built a solid foundation, adding 110 together. The pair began watchfully and the chase only began to gain momentum in the ninth over. Sibanda took on Sohail Tanvir, smacking him for three boundaries, an aerial shot over square leg, a glance down the leg side and a cut through point. He managed to stay away from the pull shot, which has cost him his wickets six times this summer.
Chibhabha, who had not performed in the previous two matches of the series, was more cautious and only risked hitting the big shot when he seemed certain it would reach the boundary. There was a sublime stroke through the covers off Aizaz Cheema and a straight drive unfurled down the ground.
Spin was introduced in the 11th over in the form of Mohammad Hafeez, who was economical without being threatening. His spin partner, legspinner Yasir Shah, had to wait until the 22nd over to make his debut but started encouragingly, with generous flight and a few googlies. Sibanda gifted him his maiden ODI wicket, two overs later. Just as the Zimbabwe opener had brought up his half-century and looked to accelerate, he was caught at long-on after misreading Shah.
Brendan Taylor moved up the order to No. 3 but lasted just 14 balls before being caught behind and Chibhabha succumbed soon after to a soft dismissal, gifting Younus a catch at cover. Hamilton Masakadza and Tatenda Taibu showed signs of steadying the innings, but Taibu's dismissal, caught by an athletic Younus in the deep, set in motion a mini-collapse as Zimbabwe lost four wickets for 32 runs. Masakadza fell to the slower ball from Sohail Khan, Chigubura mistimed a pull and Waller was cleaned up by a Cheema special, leaving Zimbabwe with no recognised batsmen. Cheema continued his impressive run in this series, bowling well in the dying periods of the game to end with career-best figures of 4 for 43.
Zimbabwe's spinners and Elton Chigumbura did well to keep Pakistan to 270 after it looked like a score over 300 was in sight. In the absence of senior paceman Chris Mpofu, the inexperience of Zimbabwe's seamers was exposed and Brian Vitori and Kyle Jarvis served up a range of short and wide deliveries with Vitori also occasionally straying too far down the leg side.
It took three overs for the pair to find the correct length, which was a touch short on this surface, but any small deviation was punished, as Jarvis found out when he bowled a fuller length to Imran Farhat, who pounced to smash him over point. Reward came in unexpected fashion when Vitori banged in a shorter one and got some extra bounce, which surprised Hafeez, who pulled to Waller deep midwicket.
Chigumbura and Price tied Younus Khan and Asad Shafiq down and dragged the run-rate to just over five. Chigumbura was particularly impressive, found his lengths from the start and frustrated Farhat before enticing him to drive with a fuller, slower delivery that the opener played into the hands of Chamu Chibhabha at cover.
Younus was not as easily tempted. He was happy to see off the good length ball and attack anything overpitched or tossed up, bringing up his fifty with a gorgeous inside-out shot over extra cover. Asad struggled against some tight bowling early in his innings, but Younus helped him find his rhythm and the pair began to rotate the strike well.
Zimbabwe's fielders put on a mixed display, saving some boundaries while letting others through and taking some improbable catches while dropping others. Shafiq was stumped after nifty work by Taibu who collected the ball off the rebound from his own chest to remove the bails and Shoaib Malik, who has yet to play an authoritative innings since making his comeback, was brilliantly caught by Chigumbura, low down in his follow through.
Younus looked set for a hundred but was also caught in impressive fashion when Jarvis pouched a return catch after eliciting the drive. With wickets in hand in the last 10 overs, Pakistan looked to Adnan Akmal and Misbah-ul-Haq to launch, but the pair added just 55 runs together. In the end, it proved to be more than enough.