Pakistan defended a modest total on a flat and dry pitch in Bulawayo, in a match that simmered softly for 90 overs, before bubbling into life in the last ten. Zimbabwe were kept to well below the required run-rate for a majority of their innings, but had wickets in hand for an onslaught at the end. However, Junaid Khan, Pakistan's most-expensive bowler, produced a gem of a last over, bowling five low full tosses to win the match for his team.
Despite being well set up by Vusi Sibanda's 73 and anchored by Brendan Taylor's 84, Zimbabwe made heavy weather of their chase. Pakistan's spinners, Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez, were difficult to get away, while ODI debutant Aizaz Cheema and comeback-man Sohail Tanvir also did their bit to keep the run flow in check.
Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq each scored a half-century to contribute the bulk of Pakistan's below-par score and Zimbabwe's bowlers appeared to have made their batsmen's task easier. But, Pakistan's experience trumped Zimbabwe's gutsy showing as the hosts left themselves too much to do in the second half of their innings.
Zimbabwe faced an interesting challenge up front as Pakistan used two left-arm seamers to open the bowling. They had to contend with the unusual action of Sohail Tanvir at one end and the more conventional Junaid Khan at the other. Chamu Chibhabha was puzzled by the angle and was bowled by Tanvir in the third over.
Junaid was easier to deal with and Sibanda played two successive pull shots off him, showing off his signature stroke, but playing it with more discrimination in this innings. Saeed Ajmal was introduced in the eighth over and immediately looked dangerous when he had a confident lbw shout against Sibanda. However, it was his fellow spinner, Mohammad Hafeez, who took the second wicket when Hamilton Masakadza tried to play square of the wicket and was hit in front of middle stump.
Sibanda and Taylor built a strong partnership, characterised by patience; they showed reservation when rotating the strike which may have ultimately cost Zimbabwe the game. Sibanda was set to convert his half-century into a bigger score but was out after an inside-edge popped up off his pad and Cheema caught it in his follow-through.
Cheema, who made an impression with eight wickets in the Test match, bowled impressive slower balls and was rewarded when Tatenda Taibu top-edged him to mid-on. Taylor also perished to the top edge, after taking Zimbabwe to the brink and left it to big-hitting Elton Chigumbura to finish things off. Chigumbura couldn't cap off his superb bowling performance by also hitting the winning runs.
Chigumbura and Hamilton Masakadza had reined in Pakistan after 20 overs of aggressive batting, in which Chris Mpofu and Greg Lamb took a pasting. After Imran Farhat was dismissed early, Younis took control, hitting Mpofu for five boundaries in his first five overs.
Mohammad Hafeez was unable to play his natural game and was tied down by a good opening spell from Ray Price, who constantly angled the ball into the pads. Prosper Utseya, who came on first change, bore the full brunt of Hafeez's frustration, conceding a smashed six over long-off and a lofted drive for four. Utseya had the last laugh, though. Hafeez was unable to keep the sweep down and Sibanda at square leg took the catch.
Misbah and Younis then threatened to take the game away from Zimbabwe but Taylor was ahead of the game and brought on Chigumbura and Masakadza, and spread the field. Younis was run out and the third comeback-man, Shoaib Malik, also failed, when he was caught by a diving Taibu down the leg side. It was an unexpected, but deserved reward for Chigumbura, who had bowled a good length throughout.
Pakistan's scoring-rate hit a plateau, dipping under five an over, and, in the 37th, Misbah attempted to accelerate with a slog-sweep for six and a cut past point for four off Masakadza. As the pressure mounted, Misbah tried something different and went for the reverse-sweep, but was trapped lbw by Price as he jumped across his crease.
Lamb was more effective in his second spell and helped Utseya keep the run flow down. When Mpofu returned in the 45th over, Umar had little choice but to take him on and pulled the first ball, a short and inviting one, straight to Utseya at midwicket. Pakistan waited as long as they could to take the Powerplay, at the start of the 46th over, and were only able to get three boundaries during it.