HARARE - Now that the World Cup and Wimbledon are over, one glance at the second ODI between Zimbabwe and Pakistan would have reminded you why you preferred those two to this series in the first place. About as competitive as a foot race between Kylian Mbappe and Hamilton Masakadza and not nearly as exciting, this series is the cricketing equivalent of two parties talking past each other. They simply have different goals.
Zimbabwe want to be respectable and dignified in defeat, with their real battles lying off the field, either in negotiations with aggrieved cricketers, on the phone with their bank overdraft managers, or at the nursing table with key players injured. Pakistan, meanwhile, are moving towards the key stage of Mission 2019, building up to the World Cup. As such - or at least we were told - they will try out several different combinations to see if further value still can be added on this already impressive team. For now, they've instead fielded largely full-strength sides, and that has been to the detriment of this series, the chasm between the two sides impossible to ignore.
Match starts at 12:15 PM
You can't see where Zimbabwe's next competitive match this series will come from. Maybe the skies will open up and reduce one of these games to a T20I, where Zimbabwe at least have a chance. Perhaps Pakistan will give us one of those batting implosions that are becoming all too rare these days. Anyway, it's unlikely. Nothing on the bench for Zimbabwe suggests a difference might be made.
For Pakistan, it might be time to give some of their bench players a go. Sahibzada Farhan will be chomping at the bit to make his debut in these conditions, while Mohammad Amir wouldn't exactly refuse a rest if offered one. It would be fascinating to see Yasir Shah cope with ODI cricket after nearly two years out, and whether he is a serious contender to catch the plane to England in 2019.
Hamilton Masakadza was Zimbabwe's highest scorer in the second ODI, which will relieve no one more than him. Up until then, he had looked in awful touch since the tri-series, and the decision to appoint him captain looked like it had backfired spectacularly. One half-century won't convince too many he is back; after all, he still seems some distance away from the player who has become the most permanent fixture in Zimbabwe's batting lineup for the last 15 years. But if he builds on that innings with another big one in the third ODI, Zimbabwe can at least be assured they won't be faced with the unenviable task of choosing whether of not Masakadza merits a place in the side when so many experienced players have already walked away.
Babar Azam looked as comfortable as ever in his first two games back from injury without storming into the limelight. A soft dismissal in the first game put paid to his stay at the crease when he was looking good, while he was unbeaten in the second as Pakistan chased down 195 thanks to Fakhar Zaman's unbeaten century. He looks ripe for another big score against a rather feeble Zimbabwean attack, particularly if Pakistan bat first. Indeed, it would almost be shocking if he didn't add to his 7 ODI hundreds before this series is out. You wouldn't bet against it happening tomorrow.
Zimbabwe didn't make any changes for the second game, but that may partially be because the options on the bench aren't particularly inspiring. Elton Chigumbura looks out of touch with the bat, but he could come in as Zimbabwe look for fireworks down the order. However, that would deprive them of a fifth bowling option, and that would require further rejigging in the starting XI. The lack of options Zimbabwe have is, quite frankly, astonishing.
For Pakistan, it simply remains to be seen how many new players they want to blood. Sahibzada Farhan may make his ODI debut, but that would disrupt an opening combination that has registered century stands in each of the first two games. Amir may well be rested, while Yasir might come in.
Zimbabwe: Hamilton Masakadza (c), Tinashe Kamunhukamwe, Ryan Murray, Peter Moor, Tarisai Musakanda, Blessing Muzarabani, Liam Nicholas Roche, Malcolm Waller, Brian Chari, Chamu Chibhabha, Elton Chigumbura, Tendai Chisoro, Tendai Chatara, Wellington Masakadza, Richard Ngarava, Donald Tiripano
Pakistan: Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Babar Azam, Asif Ali, Sarfraz Ahmed (c), Mohammad Nawaz, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan, Usman Khan, Yasir Shah, Hasan Ali, Haris Sohail