Pakistan makes a clean sweep

THIS should rank as a forgettable series for Zimbabwe. Pitted against an opposition as strong as Pakistan, it had no clue in any area as it was thrashed 5-0 at home. Zimbabwe cricket never looked so impoverished and once again it highlighted the growing gap among teams in international cricket.

Yousuf Youhana left the Zimbabwe bowlers in disarray with his sequence of big scores including centuries in the first and third ODIs.

The fact that Pakistan struggled to keep its team together did not help Zimbabwe at all. Even though Pakistan came to Zimbabwe with a big reputation there was no doubt that it was a camp which was striving to achieve its potential. Waqar Younis had not been able to command the respect he expected from his mates and the internecine squabbles in the team had left Pakistan cricket in a poor state. Some inconsistent selections too had added to the increasing woes but then the team found a messiah in Yousuf Youhana, who was outstanding with the bat and left the opposition in disarray with his sequence of big scores.

The situation at home had left Zimbabwe in turmoil and cricket was bound to suffer in the face of overall deterioration in security. Teams were apprehensive of travelling to a strife torn country and Pakistan was no exception when it expressed fears for its players. But the tour went off without much trouble barring a few incidents, including one involving Shoaib Akhtar who flung an empty plastic bottle into the stands.

Zimbabwe was outclassed in all departments and the series once again exposed the lack of talent in the country. For quite some time now Zimbabwe has failed to identify talent despite the fact that cricket has gained in popularity among the blacks. The success achieved by wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu is projected as a shining example of how cricket could provide a youngster with good life in Zimbabwe. The poor economy of the country holds little hope for the youth and cricket is seen as a means to make a mark. But the series against Pakistan would have come as a setback to the country's cricket administrators for it showed the home team in poor light.

Saleem Elahi did justice to his potential making two consecutive hundreds.

Just consider the sequence of Pakistan's totals in the five matches — 302-4, 344-5, 323-3, 211-2 and 300-7. The only time it did not score 300 was when the home team batted first. The Zimbabwe bowling was in tatters and it became worse with every outing. Zimbabwe tried 12 bowlers in the series — Douglas Hondo, Sean Ervine, Gary Brent, Mluleki Nkala, Grant Flower,Waddington Mwayenga, William Sims, Andy Blignaut, Henry Olonga, Guy Rogers, Travis Friend and Brian Murphy. It spoke for the quality of the bowling as Pakistan amassed 1480 runs in the five matches at an average of 70 per wicket. At no point did Zimbabwe appear to put Pakistan in any spot of bother.

The absence of veteran medium-pacer Heath Streak took the sting out of the Zimbabwe bowling and the poor form of skipper Alistair Campbell put too much pressure on the Flower brothers — Andy and Grant. It also speaks of the utter lack of talent in Zimbabwe that Campbell continues to keep his place despite repeated failures with the bat. His sequence in the series was 4, 32, 6, 0 and 3. He began as an opener and shifted to the number three slot in the third and fourth match and then relegated himself to the number five slot for the last match but it hardly helped his cause.

Grant Flower's lone century for Zimbabwe failed to make any impact on the outcome of the fourth match.

Andy Flower (44, 0, 63, 0 and 72) and Grant Flower (0, 1, 54, 105 not out and 28) could not cope with the Pakistanis who were determined to sweep the opposition off its feet. The feature of Pakistan's triumph was the wonderful team effort. As skipper Waqar Younis had promised the team improved in all departments and each member made it a point to contribute.

Yousuf Youhana's magnificent form stood out for Pakistan which also gained from the progress made by opener Saleem Elahi. His scores of 53, 107 and 108 did justice to his potential and the ease with which he got his runs pointed to his awesome batting skills. The young opener has been rated high by past stalwarts in Pakistan and his excellent showing in Zimbabwe should help Elahi establish himself in the side for the forthcoming World Cup.

Faisal Iqbal exults after making an unbeaten century in the fourth one-dayer.

An unbeaten century by Faisal Iqbal in the fourth one-dayer was another gain from the series, not to forget the knocks of 56 and 90 by Younis Khan, who has been criticised for his casual approach, particularly the manner in which he gifts his wicket away when in control of the situation. Batting had been Pakistan's worry for some time but the arrival of a horde of youngsters should give seniors, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram, enough time to think and plan for the battles ahead. The series failed to generate any excitement among the locals and the poor show by the home team left the fans dejected. Only eight half-centuries by Zimbabwe in perfect batting conditions was not a good commentary on the batting standards of the home players. The lone century was hit by Grant Flower but it failed to make any impact on the outcome of the match. In comparison, Pakistani batsmen hit five centuries with Youhana and Elahi making two each. Batsmen dominated the five matches and the bowlers had a tough time keeping their reputations intact. The first three matches took the fight out of Zimbabwe as Pakistan set up targets of 300 plus. The last two matches were devoid of any competitive flair as Zimbabwe too experimented and failed to reap any rewards. The gains were mighty for Pakistan and the series left Zimbabwe demoralised. It was indeed brave of Campbell to speak of improvement in the remaining part of the season even as Zimbabwe languishes at the bottom of international cricket in Bangladesh's company.

Brief scores:

1st ODI: Pakistan 302 for five in 50 overs (Yousuf Youhana 141 not out, Inzamam-ul-Haq 55, Saleem Elahi 53, Younis Khan 33 not out) beat Zimbabwe 295 for nine in 50 overs (Andy Flower 77, Craig Evans 68, Andy Blignaut 55, Tatenda Taibu 35, Waqar Younis three for 50).

2nd ODI: Pakistan 344 for five in 50 overs (Saleem Elahi 107, Taufeeq Umar 76, Yousuf Youhana 76 not out, Shahid Afridi 30) beat Zimbabwe 140 for six in 33 overs (S. Ervine 61 not out, Alistair Campbell 32, Tatenda Taibu 30 not out, Wasim Akram four for 22).

3rd ODI: Pakistan 323 for three in 50 overs (Saleem Elahi 108, Yousuf Youhana 100 not out, Taufeeq Umar 68) beat Zimbabwe 275 for seven in 50 overs (M. Vermeulen 79, Andy Flower 63, Grant Flower 54, Saqlain Mushtaq three for 41).

4th ODI: Zimbabwe 210 in 49.5 overs (Grant Flower 105 not out, Travis Friend 48, Mohammad Sami four for 41) lost to Pakistan 211 for two in 35.4 overs (Faisal Iqbal 100 not out, Younis Khan 56, Kamran Akmal 44).

5th ODI: Pakistan 300 for seven in 50 overs (Younis Khan 90, Youhana 88) beat Zimbabwe 230 in 45.3 overs (Andy Flower 72, Dion Ebrahim 36, Henry Olonga 31, Shahid Afridi three for 45).

COMING from a humble background taught Yousuf Youhana a very bitter lesson early in his cricketing career. He had to keep performing consistently if he entertained any hopes of serving the team long. So, every failure was analysed and mistakes rectified with a hope of establishing himself. Often compared with the legendary Javed Miandad for his temperament, Youhana has worked hard to keep his place in a Pakistan side where off-the-field factors count a lot when it comes to gaining recognition. A spat with skipper Waqar Younis had left Youhana in a tough spot. He lost his place in the side and faced disciplinary action. But Pakistan cricket could not afford to lose the services of a batsman as talented as Youhana and he soon made his way back into the side. And since has concentrated on cementing his position as one of the most reliable middle-order batsmen in world cricket. Youhana toyed with the Zimbabwe attack to rattle up scores of 141 not out, 76 not out, 100 not out and 88 to be adjudged the Man of the Series. It was his phenomenal batting that stood out as the biggest factor for Pakistan winning the series with such ease and it was a personal triumph for Youhana, who had set himself a target when he returned to the team. Youhana belongs to the old school of batting — give the bowler the respect he deserves before making your point. This attitude explains the superb manner in which he paces his innings, always in control as he studies the situation and then launches his assault. Youhana's wide range of strokes help him maintain the tempo even as the rival captain struggles to set a field. Waqar Younis was lavish in his praise for Youhana, as was Zimbabwe skipper Alistair Campbell. Few batsmen would have dominated a series like Youhana did — aggregating 405 runs in four innings. He was dismissed only once and that gave him a sensational average of 405. In the company of Inzamam-ul-Haq, the mild-mannered Youhana becomes a lethal customer in the middle overs. His ability to pick the gaps eases the pressure on his partners and his excellent running between the wickets is a quality developed after watching Miandad. Temperament is Youhana's greatest asset and his near-flawless technique puts him in a special category of batsmen who make their bowlers earn the wicket.

It is this quality that makes Youhana one of Pakistan's best bet when taking on strong attacks in international cricket. The success against lowly Zimbabwe should be the launching pad for Youhana to conquer the top attacks in the world. He would indeed be the batsman to watch in the forthcoming World Cup.