With the most seasoned batsman in the side, Mohammad Hafeez, struggling with his form, the middle order looks in tatters. Pakistan won the ODI and T20I series against South Africa largely by hinging on the top-order as Mohammad Rizwan, Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam had been in marvellous touch but yesterday we saw middle-order in action earlier in the innings than what they have been used to of late and they looked meek and rather clueless against a spirited Zimbabwe bowling line-up who stuck to their guns. 

The ball hasn't been coming nicely onto the bat as we saw way too many miscued shots from Pakistan batsmen into the hands of fielders which was the case in the first T20I too. It boils down to a lack of practice and preparation ahead of facing a bowling attack that thrives on their home ground. 

Blessing Muzarabani, Richard Ngarava and the player of the match Luke Jongwe were deadly accurate with their lines and cramped Pakistan batsmen for room who tried to go after bowlers disdainfully but seldom there was timing and solid connection. 

Spare a thought for Brendan Taylor who was wearing the captain's armband after a long time and it felt like he was never disconnected with his team and he gave his all while marshalling the troops, acting as a protege. 

"This one is for the 15 million Zimbabweans. In these Covid-19 times, I hope we have given you something you can cheer about," said Taylor after the historic win.

There should be no room for confusion anymore that Asif Ali is stuck in a vicious cycle and no matter what he tries, he finds himself stuck in a rut. When the team needed him the most, he couldn't clear the ropes and got dismissed early in the piece. Giving him more chances would be akin to injustice with other players who haven't always enjoyed such extended run and backing from the team management and selection committee. 

The pattern has become all too familiar with Asif and it has to be his last series because he needs time in domestic cricket to analyze and weed out issues with his power-hitting. 

Danish Aziz struggled to get bat on the ball and there were many deliveries whizzing past his outside edge as he failed to connect when the asking rate kept ballooning. Similarly, Haider Ali finds himself in a pickle too as he has been unable to convert his starts and it remains to be seen whether he will get another shot to make things right tomorrow. 

The only silver lining that could be found in the last match for Pakistan was the disciplined bowling that confined Zimbabwe on a paltry score of 118 which any captain would gleefully accept in T20I cricket. 

"In South Africa, we had chased down 200; similarly here, we should have won this game comfortably. But unfortunately, we played poor cricket and continued to struggle in the middle order...It was a collective collapse and we lost as a group. But credit to Zimbabwe who came back so strongly today," said Babar Azam.

Even if Pakistan wins the game thumpingly tomorrow in the final T20I, the defeat against Zimbabwe in the second match unravels the fissures in Pakistan's team and the unremarkable backup options. The inability to adapt and read conditions is not a hallmark of a top-quality side and the lack of application, game awareness, and versatility which is required from the top five batsmen doesn't bode well for Pakistan as they kickstart their preparations for the ICC T20 World Cup 2021 in India later this year.


Squads


Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Arshad Iqbal, Asif Ali, Danish Aziz, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Sharjeel Khan and Usman Qadir.

Zimbabwe: Sean Williams (capt), Ryan Burl, Regis Chakabva, Tanaka Chivanga, Craig Ervine, Luke Jongwe, Tinashe Kamunhukamwe, Wesley Madhevere, Tadiwanashe Marumani, Wellington Masakadza, Tapiwa Mufudza, Blessing Muzarabani, Richard Ngarava, Brendan Taylor, Donald Tiripano