Legspinner Yasir Shah returned career-best figures as Pakistan spun their way to a crushing 131-run victory over Zimbabwe in the first of three one-day internationals at Harare Sports Club on Thursday.
In dry conditions reminiscent of some of their slower venues back home, Pakistan dug themselves out of a hole to post 259 for six, before routing Zimbabwe for 128 in 37 overs with all 10 wickets going to the spinners.
Shah claimed the lion’s share of the wickets in taking 6 for 26 — the second-best figures by a Pakistani in ODI cricket and the best by any spinner in Zimbabwe.
It was just the sixth time in history that spin had claimed all 10 wickets in an ODI.
Such a resounding victory represented an impressive turnaround by a Pakistani side that found itself on the back foot after they had lost the toss and been inserted by the hosts.
Although Zimbabwe started the day looking short on energy, they sparked to life in the sixth over when John Nyumbu made up for a dropped catch by running out Pakistan captain Azhar Ali with a direct hit.
From that point Pakistan slumped to 35 for three as seamers Tinashe Panyangara and Luke Jongwe were rewarded for their persistence with the wickets of Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez respectively.
While Sarfraz Ahmed and Shoaib Malik resurrected the innings as they added 65 for the fourth wicket, they swiftly undid their good work by running down the pitch at Zimbabwe’s spinners.
After Malik was bowled by a dipping Nyumbu delivery for 31, Ahmed hit a Graeme Cremer delivery straight to deep midwicket to depart for 44 and leave Pakistan in trouble at 128 for five.
However Mohammad Rizwan and Imad Wasim continued their good form from the Twenty20 series, which Pakistan swept 2-0, as they put on 124 for the sixth wicket.
Both batsmen ended up scoring at a run a ball on a challenging surface, with Rizwan finishing unbeaten on 75 and Wasim run out for 61 in the final over of the innings.
“Early on it was tough, but the partnership between Sarfraz and Malik gave us belief and then Rizwan and Wasim played exceptionally well,” Ali reflected afterwards.
“With the score we had, we were very confident of defending with the kind of spin attack we had.”
Zimbabwe attempted to build their reply with a steady start, but Shah struck in his first and third overs and went on to run through the middle order.
Shoaib Malik also chipped in with three scalps, as the hosts lost their last six wickets for the addition of just 27 runs.
While Pakistan’s spinners deserved credit for bowling straight on the slow surface, with six wickets coming from batsmen being bowled or trapped lbw, Zimbabwe were also guilty of some schoolboy dismissals.
The home batsmen will need to make a vast improvement in the second match, which takes place at the same venue on Saturday.