Ahmed Shehzad established several records on way to plundering Zimbabwe for an unbeaten 98, which sealed a 2-0 sweep of the Twenty20 series for Pakistan. Shehzad bettered his best T20 international innings of 70, achieved in the previous game, to make the highest score in the format by a Pakistan batsman, going past Misbah-ul-Haq’s 87* against Bangladesh in Karachi in 2008. Heaving the ball repeatedly over the leg-side boundary to become the first from his country to hit six sixes in a T20 innings, Shehzad added 143 for the second wicket with Mohammad Hafeez, making it the highest T20 partnership by a Pakistan pair. The previous best was 142 for the first wicket between Kamran Akmal and Salman Butt against Bangladesh at Gros Islet in the 2010 World Twenty20.
Shehzad’s innings was yet another example of how much damage top-order batsmen can cause in T20s, if they take a bit of time instead of throwing their bats at everything from the first ball. The first five that Shehzad played were all dots, from the offspinner Prosper Utseya. To the sixth, Shehzad charged out and lofted over long-on for six. This ability to come up with the big hit would define Shehzad’s innings. More than a third of the 64 deliveries he faced were dots, and he was on 11 off 18 at one stage, but the heave over midwicket was always around the corner.
After Brendan Taylor again decided to chase, it was Nasir Jamshed who got Pakistan going with 23 off 17. He was put down at slip on 7 but soon mishit Shingi Masakadza for mid-off to take a running catch in the sixth over. That was to be it for Zimbabwe for the innings. Barring a couple of leading edges off Hafeez that did not carry, they didn’t really come close to taking another wicket. In Zimbabwe’s defence, whenever Shehzad and Hafeez mishit the ball, it never came close to carrying to the deep fielders.And their fast bowlers never got the yorkers right, sending down length deliveries and full tosses instead, which Pakistan put away with ease.
Shehzad favoured the leg side overwhelmingly, 73 of his 98 coming in that region, including 10 of his 12 boundaries. Considering most of them were full-blooded swings across the line, the timing and placement he managed on the shots was commendable.
Shehzad needed just 22 deliveries after reaching his fifty to come within two runs of a century. Three of those were dots off Brian Vitori in the 16th over. The other three were swung for boundaries down the ground. He entered the last over on 86 and powered Vitori over long-on first ball. The hundred within sight, a determined but tiring Shehzad laboured back for successive twos next. He wanted two off the fourth ball as well, but Hafeez was in no mood for gifting a run-out chance to Zimbabwe. Sensitive to his opener’s palpable desire, Hafeez pushed a single off the penultimate ball, but for once, Shehzad failed to pick a gap off the final one, trotting a single to deep midwicket.
With Shehzad in such flow, Hafeez didn’t have to do much more than turn the strike over for most of the partnership, before finding the boundary a few times at the death. The Pakistan captain would have a much larger role with the ball, after resting first-choice bowlers Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Irfan. Anwar Ali was taken for three fours in his first over, and Zimbabwe were keeping up with the asking-rate at 44 for 0 after the first five. Then came the spinners, and Zimbabwe, again, had no answers.
Zulfiqar Babar began with a maiden, and Hafeez with a wicket-maiden, as Vusi Sibanda holed out after successive slow starts. In his next over, Hafeez had Taylor gloving an attempted reverse-sweep. Hamilton Masakadza fought to make 41, but Hafeez had him pulling to deep midwicket in the 14th. Babar’s double-strike in the next over sent Zimbabwe plummeting further to 109 for 5. Elton Chigumbura and Malcolm Waller tried, but Shehzad had pulled so far in front that even an inexperienced attack wasn’t really pushed.