Even if you were a consummate optimist, that’s about the only thing you could think of that makes this series even faintly competitive. Because while Pakistan did begin this year with an ignominious trip to New Zealand where they lost all five ODIs they played in, they’ve had a remarkable white-ball year since. They won the T20I series that followed, whitewashed West Indies at home in April, sealed a comfortable 2-0 win over Scotland, and are coming off a win in the T20I tri-series in Zimbabwe. However, they haven’t played another ODI since that series against New Zealand, which means they go into this contest with an inferior ODI record to their hosts this year.
Zimbabwe’s 2018 ODI numbers aren’t exactly the sort to make you leap from your chair though – the hosts have won five and lost nine of the 15 games they’ve played. At the World Cup Qualifiers, Graeme Cremer’s side had begun to look like a team in the developing stages of long-term competitiveness. If that was the team due to face Pakistan, the tenor of this series would have been somewhat different.
But the core of that side has been ripped up since then, and looking at that Zimbabwe team for guidance as to how this one might perform would be a fool’s errand. As if things weren’t bad enough already, Zimbabwe are forced to approach this series with their two best players (from the ones that were willing to play) ruled out. Kyle Jarvis hasn’t played since sustaining a thumb injury in the first T20I, while star batsman Solomon Mire has been ruled out with a gluteal tear.
One positive Zimbabwe could draw from the tri-series – in which they went winless – was the team’s steady improvement with each match, coming agonisingly close to upsetting Australia in the last round-robin game in a result no neutral would have begrudged them. Team spirit hadn’t appeared to have suffered despite the long-strained relations between the board and the players, and the long-standing issue of undependable salaries. However, the grim realisation that the biggest reason for their competitiveness was the late-tournament form of Mire will not have escaped their notice, and his absence will undoubtedly bite them.
In truth, there is nothing for Pakistan to fear here. Sarfraz Ahmed’s men are in fantastic form, no doubt buoyed by victory in a tri-series final they appeared to be chasing for the bulk of the contest. There is nothing this Zimbabwe side has to offer that Pakistan cannot handle in the longer formats. They may opt to rest several players – indeed, they were doing that even against Australia in the tri-series – with Mickey Arthur looking to fine-tune his squad as they build momentum ahead of the 2019 World Cup.